Did you know that the law requires all Filipino babies to get tested for their hearing? It's mandated under Republic Act 9709, or the "Act That Establishes the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening for the Prevention, Early Diagnosis, and Intervention of Hearing Loss." A Filipino infant should undergo a hearing screening test before being discharged from the hospital. Babies who are not born in a hospital are required to be screened within the first three months.
Pediatric otolaryngologist Dr. Rina Quintos, M.D., told Smartparenting.com.ph that the first and best opportunity to test a child’s sense of hearing is shortly after birth or within the first month of life. According to the Newborn Hearing Screening Resource Center (NHSCR), these are the top three reasons why the newborn hearing test is essential for newborn health:
An infant born with hearing impairment does not show visible symptoms.
While the chances of a Filipino infant being diagnosed with a congenital hearing loss, even a mild one, is about one or two in 1,000 infants, a hearing loss may not show any symptoms until it's too late like the disorders detected by the newborn screening blood test. It's why it's important to do the test early.
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Hearing is essential so that a child will be able to talk.
The first three years of life is the most intensive period for the brain to acquire speech and language skills. One of the early warning signs that a baby may have a speech and language delay is if he does not smile, coo, or laugh or does not pay attention to sounds during his first three months of life. To be able to learn to speak, a child must first hear the sounds before he can try to replicate them.
A baby with mild hearing loss can adversely affect his overall development.
A child's ability to hear, speak, and learn a language is one of the fundamental skills for success in school and in real life as adults. "Even mild hearing loss has been shown to adversely affect, speech, language, academic, and psychosocial development," Dr. Quintos said.
Having a baby undergo his first hearing test at no later than three months of age will give time for the baby to have follow-up tests and more hearing diagnostics. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends early intervention as early as six months of age.
How does a newborn hearing screening go? In a silent room, a certified hearing screening personnel will fit your infant's ear with an instrument. The two most common test methods are the otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) and a bit more expensive auditory brain stem response (ABR). Both tests are quick, about five to 10 minutes long, and according to Dr. Quintos in a web seminar, pose no harm for the newborn baby.
Currently, most major hospitals have Newborn Hearing Centers (NHCs) who have qualified and certified individuals to conduct hearing tests on newborns. (Find here a directory of all NHCs across the country.)
The Newborn Hearing Screening Test is included in PhilHealth's Newborn Care Package (NCP), which is worth Php1,750. If you don't qualify for eligibility, a typical newborn hearing test will cost about Php200 to Php700, depending on the hospital or hearing center administering the test.
If your baby passed his initial hearing test, it doesn't assure good hearing health up to adulthood. Parents have to remain vigilant in observing signs and following preventive measures like protecting your child's ears from too loud sounds or taking care in cleaning them (avoid using cotton buds!).