generation ago, it was not uncommon for hearing loss in a newborn to go undiagnosed for a year or more. Those were essentially wasted months that could have been spent on early intervention to give the hearing impaired child every opportunity to develop speech and language at an age-appropriate level. With support from a legislative grant sponsored by New York State Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., Winthrop has acquired sophisticated equipment that can detect hearing loss within the first days of life. The Hospital recently began screening every newborn for hearing loss.
Madalena Rebelo, PCA, performs a hearing test on newborn Keith Keogh.
"Early intervention is key in helping babies born with hearing loss to develop optimally," said audiologist Lori Rosenthal, who conducted in-service education to train Winthrop staff members to perform the screening. "Babies learn to speak by imitating sounds they hear. In cases where hearing aids are indicated, it is important that babies begin to use them as early as possible."
A technology known as oto-acoustic emission (OAE) testing makes it possible to routinely test the hearing of infants who are too young to respond to auditory cues. The portable, hand-held device is inserted into the newborn's ear canal. It emits a series of sounds and measures vibrations in the cochlea, or inner ear, which indicate that the sound has been received.
"Screenings are performed on all babies, including premature babies and those in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit," said Jonathan Davis, MD, Chief of Neonatology. "Babies who fail the screening are re-tested a few hours later," explained Warren Rosenfeld, MD, Chairman of Winthrop's Department of Pediatrics.
The OAE technology is able to detect mild to severe hearing loss. Equipment to perform brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing, a more sophisticated examination that uses electrodes to measure the brain's response to sound, has also been acquired. Babies who do not pass the initial screening will subsequently undergo BAER testing procedures.
Winthrop purchased three OAE units and the BAER system with funds provided through a $75,000 legislative grant obtained through the efforts of New York State Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. with support from State Senator Michael A.L. Balboni.
While Winthrop has begun to screen newborns as part of the battery of tests performed in the first two days of life, New York State recently passed legislation requiring all hospitals to do the same. This regulation takes effect on April 1, 2000.
Prior to obtaining the new equipment, Winthrop routinely screened those newborns identified as being at high risk for hearing loss. The development of new technology reduced the time needed to perform each test, allowing for universal screening.
"Even before this screening was mandated, we recognized the importance of diagnosing hearing loss early in life," commented Dr. Rosenfeld. "Hearing loss affects approximately one in 1,000 newborns. Early recognition and treatment have great impact on the future for these children."
Approximately 5,000 babies from communities throughout Long Island are born at Winthrop each year. Because Winthrop is a regional referral center, a significant number of babies born at other area hospitals are transferred to Winthrop for high-level care in its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. They will be included in the newborn hearing screening program.
For additional information on Winthrop's newborn hearing screening program, call Children's Health Services, part of Winthrop's Institute for Family Care, at 1-877-559-KIDS.