Ear Care for the Most Vulnerable Infants

Each year, approximately 6,000 newborns-of the nearly 4 million births in the U.S.-are diagnosed with permanent hearing loss, and premature infants are 50 percent more likely than full-term infants to develop hearing loss | ASHA Leader

Infants’ experiences in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are highly variable, depending on the complexity of their cases and degree of prematurity. Those with more severe or chronic medical and neurodevelopmental conditions present particular challenges to the audiology team.

Complications of their conditions can delay hearing screening, and the medical equipment helping to support them may interfere with the screening itself. The NICU environment can also be noisy for this vulnerable population. Yet another challenge is the emotional fragility of these infants’ parents.

Although audiology isn’t part of the primary NICU care team, every infant receives a hearing screen, and any infant with a failed screen receives diagnostic audiological testing. This means the hearing-screening staff and audiology team play an important role, particularly after a baby does not pass the hearing screening. Audiologists can also play a key role in the development, implementation and oversight of the newborn hearing program (see more on newborn hearing screening on the ASHA Practice Portal: on.asha. org/newborn-screening). In these cases, the audiologist serves as the primary source of hearing-related information for the parents and the medical team.

To address the particular challenges of the NICU population, audiologists need to communicate and work closely with the NICU staff as soon as it’s appropriate, consider the effects of medical equipment, communicate with parents with a great deal of sensitivity, and work at coordinating discharge planning and follow-up care with the infant’s parents and other providers.

Full reference: McGrath, A. P., & Vohr, B. R. (2017). Ear care for the most vulnerable infants. ASHA Leader, 22(8), 20-22.

 

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