USD technology aids in infant hearing screenings

USD technology aids in infant hearing screenings by Leslie Hanson Early detection of hearing disorders in children is now available in Vermillion as a result of a unique partnership between The University of South Dakota department of communication disorders, USD Speech and Hearing Center and the Sioux Valley Vermillion Hospital.

This newborn screening is possible because of new technology called Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE). Purchased with funds from the Scottish Rite Foundation of South Dakota, the screenings are a tool for early intervention in the fight against congenital hearing loss.

According to USD Speech and Hearing Center Director Dean Lockwood, the advanced newborn screening technology measures the response of the inner ear by sending two tones into the ear, then waiting for an echo response from the nerve fibers in the inner ear. �The ear not only hears things but makes sounds as well,� he said.

According to Professor Lockwood, the idea for newborn screening was developed in the 1970s, although it was not available at the USD Speech and Hearing Center and provided to newborns at Sioux Valley Vermillion Hospital until November 1998.

�Since the start of the program last fall, the popularity of newborn screening has soared and every child born in Vermillion, an average of two to three newborns per week, has been screened,� said Lockwood.

Screening for hearing of newborns, which is free to the public, is initiated when Sioux Valley Director of Nurses Mary Hendricks informs the communication disorders department about new births at the hospital. A USD team, which includes graduate students and faculty, contacts parents, gains permission and then conducts the newborn hearing screening.

USD Audiologist Paul M. Brueggeman, MA CCC-A, said that there has been a decrease in the age of hearing loss identification due in part because of the advancement of OAE screening for hearing problems. �The number of (children with) hearing loss has decreased,� he said. �Previously, babies were not being identified before these types of programs (newborn screening) became available.�

Nationally, seven in 1,000 children are born with permanent hearing loss and one in 1,000 children suffers from severe hearing loss at birth.

Officials have not found any congenital hearing disorders in children since screening began last fall. However, Brueggeman noted, there is an additional battery of tests if hearing loss is suspected. Fortunately, some hearing disorders are medically treatable.

�We screen babies again two weeks after their initial screening and, if they fail the initial test, we perform a follow-up assessment on them. There is a battery of tests that we can perform to determine a protocol for treatment if hearing loss is identified,� Brueggeman said.

Lockwood cited newborn hearing screening as an instrument of good practical experience for graduate students in his department. �The program provides a service to the public as well as clinical education for students in this field,� he said.

�It is only a matter of time before this type of screening will be required in all 50 states,� said Lockwood. �I consider the program to be very successful and expect it to be continued for the foreseeable future,� he said.

Presently, 17 states have laws mandating hearing screening of newborns.

For more information on newborn hearing screening, contact the department of communication disorders at (605) 677-5474 or Sioux Valley Vermillion Hospital at (605) 624-2611.

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