Common hearing test for newborns may be wrong up to a third of the time

U-M study may help hospitals choose equipment for screening, keep new parents from worrying

ANN ARBOR, MI - A test commonly used to screen newborns for hearing problems may give false positives in as many as 35 percent of cases, a new University of Michigan study finds. Besides causing new parents to worry needlessly about their child's hearing, the technique may also lead to more costs in the long run for follow-up tests. By contrast, the study finds, a slightly more complex test seems to give normal-hearing babies a passing grade nearly all the time.

The new finding, published in the December issue of the American Journal of Audiology, may help hospitals choose which test to use as they try to meet some states' requirements that all newborns be screened for hearing loss before going home. In fact, it has already led the U-M to pick the more accurate test for its new universal screening program. The data may also help audiologists fine-tune their use of the quicker test to give the fewest false positive results.

The U-M study directly compared the results of distortion product otoacoustic emission (DPOAE) tests, analyzed using four different "pass" criteria, with those from auditory brain stem response (ABR) tests. The four different criteria were used because there are currently no universally accepted standards for a "pass" in DPOAE testing. Data came from 596 babies born at the U-M Health System who had no hearing-loss risk factors. All were tested with both techniques within 24 hours of birth.

All the infants passed the ABR test in both ears. But in the same group of infants, DPOAE tests performed with the strictest passing requirements suggested that 35 percent of the babies tested would need to return for follow-up testing to rule out hearing loss. Even when the bar was lowered, 11 percent of infants still failed the DPOAE test.

"These are both good tests, and both have important applications, but if we're going to do u

Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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