Healthy Hearing Program

In Australia, about one to two in every 1000 babies born each year have a significant, permanent hearing loss.

Left untreated, any type of hearing loss even if only mild, can cause delays in speech and language development. This may impact the child's ability to interact socially and at school.

Early detection and appropriate management can significantly reduce the impact of hearing loss, giving the child the best chance of developing normal speech and language.

All babies born at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals are offered a free hearing screen shortly after birth through the Mater Healthy Hearing Program. The program also tests any babies referred by their doctor.

Which babies have a higher risk of hearing loss?

Babies who have:

  • a family history of permanent childhood hearing loss
  • syndromes associated with hearing loss (e.g. Down Syndrome)
  • prolonged ventilation
  • bacterial meningitis
  • low birth weight (under 1500 g)
  • severe asphyxia at birth
  • malformations of the ears, head or neck (e.g. cleft palate, external ear abnormalities)
  • severe jaundice
  • maternal infection during pregnancy (e.g. Rubella, CMV, TORCH, Syphilis)

How do we test young babies?

Babies are tested while asleep. The tests are safe and painless for the baby and results are available immediately.

The tests are:

  • Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR), an automated screening test that provides information about the baby's hearing system for each ear. A "Pass" or 'Refer" result is obtained. This takes about 2–10 minutes.
  • Diagnostic Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) and Otto Acoustic Emission (OAE) testing are computerised tests that provide more detailed information about the baby’s hearing system for each ear. These tests are performed by an audiologist.

What does a pass result mean?

A "pass" result indicates that the baby hears at levels required for normal speech and language development at the time of the screen.

What if my baby doesn't pass the screening test?

If a "refer" result is obtained on either ear on the first screen, the screen will be repeated. If a "refer" result is obtained on the second screen, a diagnostic ABR is arranged.

If your baby does not pass, it does not necessarily mean they have a permanent hearing problem, just that they need a follow up assessment, which we will arrange with you.

What if my baby misses their screening test?

An outpatient appointment will be offered to those babies that do not undergo a screen while in hospital.

Is all hearing loss permanent?

No, there are different types of hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss is very common in children. It may be just a brief episode associated with a cold, or it may be a long-term problem. Medical treatment is effective for many children with conductive hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Previously called “nerve deafness”, sensorineural hearing loss may range from mild to profound, but cannot be corrected surgically. Any sensorineural hearing loss, even of a mild degree, can contribute to speech and language delays.

Hearing aids can be of benefit and are provided to all children free of charge through Australian Hearing. Some children may even benefit from a cochlear implant, a procedure performed at Mater Hospitals for both public and private patients.

How do I arrange to have my baby's hearing tested?

If you are concerned about your baby's hearing, even if they passed the newborn screen, you can ask your doctor or paediatrician to send a detailed referral including your baby's name, date of birth, your address and contact phone number to Mater's Healthy Hearing Program.

Where is Mater's Healthy Hearing Program?

Mater's Healthy Hearing Program is based on level 7, Mater Mothers' Hospitals, Raymond Terrace, South Brisbane.

If you have any questions or need further information, please contact our office:
Telephone: 07 3163 1923 or 07 3163 8685
Monday–Friday, 8.30 am–4.30 pm

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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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