How can you test a baby’s hearing?

Discovering your child might have hearing loss is upsetting for any parent. Adding insult to injury, tests to determine the extent of a baby’s hearing loss tend to be unreliable. This can have a hugely damaging impact on their development. But a donor-funded research project at Manchester is hoping to find a better way.

Share How can you test a baby’s hearing? It may be more complicated than it sounds Share on X After being diagnosed with hearing loss at 2 months old, Logan has been enrolled in an experimental research project at The University of Manchester Share on X There are currently no widely available reliable tests for checking if babies’ hearing aids are working. That might be about to change. Share on X

How can you test if a baby’s hearing aid is working?

At first it may seem like a simple question, but the answer is perhaps more complicated, and more important, than you might think.

Babies are routinely given hearing tests very shortly after birth, and those with severe hearing issues are fitted with hearing aids by around two or three months.

However, it’s not immediately clear whether or not these hearing aids are working as intended. Currently, those babies with hearing aids do not have another test until seven or eight months.

Even then, these tests are not entirely reliable. Astonishingly, there are currently no widely available tests which can provide reliable information about how well hearing aids work in babies.

That means that babies can go as long as six months between having a hearing aid fitted and having a test to see it’s working as planned. That’s six months or more where they may not be able to hear properly, and this can have a huge impact.

Babies use the sounds around them in order to grow and learn, and having limited or no access to that in early life can have serious implications on their development.

But there is hope in sight.

A new test

Tests called Cortical Auditory Evoked Potentials (CAEPs), which involves using recording leads attached to the head to monitor if sounds are being detected by the brain, have previously been shown to be a potentially promising solution.

Now, at The University of Manchester, a team lead by Professor Kevin Munroe is trying to confirm the validity of these tests through a study which will see 200 infants with hearing aids have their hearing tested twice, once at three to six months of age, and again at seven to nine months of age.

When designing the study, one potential difficulty that was identified was that it can often be difficult for parents to be able to bring their children to hospitals, which may be far away and difficult to reach.

In order to solve this issue, the team designed a mobile van to undertake the tests, which would be able to travel to the parents directly.

Thanks to a generous donation from the Marston Family Foundation, the van was able to be fully kitted out with all the necessary equipment.

Logan’s story

One of the participants in the study was Marsha and her son, Logan.

Logan showed signs of hearing loss soon after birth, and after many trips to the hospital, was eventually diagnosed at around two months old.

After a referral to a paediatric audiologist, Logan had to be taken for frequent tests and fittings for his hearing aid.

The travelling is a nightmare. Logan has three or four different locations that he visits and he gets agitated because we have to travel so much,” Marsha said.

“It can be quite disruptive. The doctors need Logan to stay perfectly still and silent during the assessments and that’s impossible – he’s always been such a lively baby. It was heart-breaking at times trying to make him stay still.”

Logan’s consultant eventually found out about the project at the University, and recommended that Logan was a perfect fit.

Marsha thinks that participating in the project has had real benefits for Logan.

“It’s been brilliant having the van come to our house instead of me having to go to a clinic at the hospital. There was a big box of toys in the van, especially for a baby, and Logan loves it. It’s so much better for him because he’s so young and he’s still got his routine.

While Logan’s hearing loss is permanent, the regular check-ups in the van, alongside specialist help from his nursery should ensure any changes are noticed, and Logan doesn’t fall behind on his development.

“We’ll always have to keep an eye on Logan, but hopefully as he gets older, we’ll see the signs better. It’s just that at such a young age, he can’t tell us, can he?”

The future

The research trial is currently ongoing, but results are expected in 2018. If successful, this scheme could be rolled out much more widely, and could help improve the development of children like Logan, while easing the burden on parents like Marsha.

This project would not have been possible without the generous support of the Marston Family Foundation. Donations from people like you can allow us to conduct ground-breaking research studies like this.

Find out more about how donations are enabling research and changing lives.

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