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What happens during newborn hearing screening tests

The newborn hearing screening test is done when your baby is asleep or settled. It does not cause any pain or discomfort to your baby. 

You can stay with your baby while it's done - it only takes a few minutes. 

Your baby will usually have the hearing screening test in hospital before they're 1 month old, either:

  • before they're discharged from hospital
  • at the outpatients client - for example, if you had a home birth

Specially trained staff called 'screeners' do the test.

The test is called the Automated Otoacoustic Emissions (AOAE) test.

How the test is done

The newborn hearing screening test checks your baby's inner ear (the 'cochlea'). When a healthy ear receives sound, the inner part produces an echo. Recording this tells us that the hearing is satisfactory.

This screening test can be repeated if there is not a clear response in one or both ears.

  1. The screener will put a small soft-tipped earpiece in your baby's outer ear.
  2. They will play clicking sounds into your baby's ear.
  3. The screening equipment tests your baby's inner ear to see if it is echoing the clicking sounds.
  4. The screener will repeat the test if necessary.

You will get the results at the time of the test.

If the results are not clear, the screener will do a second test at another time.

Second hearing screening test

Most babies only need one hearing screening test. But some babies need to have a second test. This is because the first screen did not show a clear response from both ears.

This does not necessarily mean that your baby has a hearing loss.

Other common reasons screening may not show a clear response include:

  • Your baby may have been unsettled at the time of screening.
  • There may have been background noise during the screening test.
  • Your baby may have fluid or a temporary blockage in the ear after the birth. This is very common and will pass with time.

Your baby's second test may be done before you leave hospital. If not, you will get an appointment for the outpatient clinic.

The second test may either be:

  • the same type of test as the first one (the AOAE test)
  • a different type of test called the Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR) test

How the AABR test works

The AABR test measures how your baby's hearing (auditory) nerve and brain response to sounds. The auditory nerve carries information about sound from the inner ear to the brain.

  1. The screener will put soft headphones on your baby and 3 small sensors on your baby's head and neck.
  2. The screener will play clicking sounds into your baby's ear.
  3. The equipment will check how well your baby's ears respond to sound.

The second test is only done once.

If the results from the AABR test are not clear, your baby will then be referred to the audiology clinic for some more tests. These are called 'diagnostic' tests.

Most babies who are referred for diagnostic tests will still have no hearing loss.

If your baby spent more than 48 hours in intensive care

Babies who spent more than than 48 hours in intensive care will have both types of hearing screening tests - AOAE and AABR.

This is because these babies are more likely to have hearing loss than babies who did not spend time in intensive care.

The screening test will usually be done before your baby leaves hospital. If this is not possible, we will contact you to let you know when and where it could be done.

Getting your baby's hearing screening results

Page last reviewed: 12 September 2022
Next review due: 12 September 2025