Healthy Hearing Program

In Australia, about one to two in every 1000 babies born each year have significant, permanent hearing loss. Left untreated, any type of hearing loss even if only mild, can cause delays in their speech and language development. This may impact your child's ability to interact socially too, particularly as they reach school age.

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

All babies born at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals in Brisbanenare offered a free hearing screen shortly after birth through our 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 the following may be at a higher risk of hearing loss:

  • 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 they are asleep. The tests are safe and painless for your baby and results are available immediately. The tests are:

  • Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR)—an automated screening test that provides information about your baby's hearing system for each ear. A "Pass" or 'Refer" result is obtained. This takes about two to 10 minutes.
  • Diagnostic Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) and Otto Acoustic Emission (OAE)—testing is computerised and provides more detailed information about your 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 your 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.

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 at the Mater Mothers' Hospitals in South Brisbane.

Level 7, Mater Mothers' Hospitals
Raymond Terrace
South Brisbane Qld 4101

If you have any questions or need further information, please contact our office by calling 07 3163 1923 or 07 3163 8685. We are open Monday to Friday, 8.30 am to 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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