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December 20, 2002

New hearing test for South Coast newborns

From: Illawarra Mercury, Australia - 20 Dec 2002

By JENNY DENNIS December 20, 2002

ILLAWARRA and Shoalhaven newborns will get a head start in life with the introduction of a new test to detect hearing impairment.

Wollongong Hospital nurse audiologist Sandra Gilkes said the average age at which hearing problems had been detected up till now was two years for severe hearing impairment and four years for moderate impairment.

This was well past the age when most children started to talk and could mean years of confusion as parents worried about why their children were lagging behind their peers in communication and social skills.

The test - part of the $8million Universal Newborn Hearing Program being rolled out across NSW - will play a key role in the early identification of hearing loss and its management.

It has been available to newborns in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven since the beginning of the month.

"This is an important initiative that will give babies the best possible start to life," said Ms Gilkes, the program coordinator.

She said it was important that children with permanent hearing impairments were identified as soon as possible.

The Automated Auditory Brainstem Response technology has been installed at Shellharbour Hospital, and portable screening units are situated at Wollongong and Shoalhaven hospitals.

The hearing test works by using an instrument to send a sound into the baby's ear then measuring the level of returned sound to calculate the level of hearing function.

Ms Gilkes will coordinate four screeners whose job it will be to test all newborns in public and private sector hospitals.

"This program helps us to identify hearing loss within days of a child being born and link the baby and parents with vital support services," she said.

If not identified and managed early, a serious hearing impairment could have a devastating effect on a child's speech.

Illawarra Maternal and Paediatric Services clinical co-director Narelle Gleeson said babies who showed indications of hearing impairment in the initial screening test would be given further tests to assess the level of impairment and decide on future management.

Copyright © 2002 Illawarra Mercury