In the first few years of life, hearing is essential in children’s cognitive, emotional, and social development. Hearing allows us to make sense of the environment around us. There is so much emphasis placed on hearing and young children as it should be! Even so, now every state and territory in the US has adopted the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program, which attempts to catch all children with hearing loss before 3 months of age. One major player in this detection program is newborn hearing screenings in hospitals.

Since hearing is so important to a child’s development, hearing screenings and/or evaluations should be completed regularly throughout childhood. If you want to make sure your child’s ears are functioning properly, have their ears screened often. It is recommended to have a child’s hearing screened around two years of age and again before the child begins school. Some pediatrician’s offices even have screening tools to make sure your little ones ears are in tip top shape!!

Hearing screenings are super simple, quick and pain-free! An Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) test is done in a quiet environment to test if the hair cells in the inner ear are working the way they should! A small probe (looks like a pen) is placed in the ear canal and sends very quiet sounds into the ear where it measures an “echo” response from the outer hair cells of the inner ear.

The second hearing screening is just as important as the first. You can only get HALF of the picture if you just do OAE’s and not tympanometry, often termed “tymps.”  Tympanometry is “technically” not a test but rather a procedure, but it carries its weight in gold… in my opinion! This procedure uses a similar probe as the OAE tool, but it measures how well the eardrum is moving when presented with soft sounds & air pressure. When the eardrum doesn’t move the way it is supposed to, it will record a “flat” line on a graph suggesting less than optimal eardrum movement. This is a huge predictor of middle ear issues such as fluid behind the ears.

There are some cases (and it happens more often than you think) where kiddos do not have ear infections, but they DO HAVE fluid behind their eardrums causing the eardrum to not function properly. When the ear drum is not moving as much as it should, children can still hear, but it sounds as if they are under water or their ears are plugged. As a parent, the only real indicator for children who do not have ear infections, but their child is affected by excess fluid behind the ear drum, is delayed speech and language. And this is why the tympanometry procedure is key and why testing often and regularly is so important!! You can essentially catch a speech or language delay before it happens!!

Emily Watkins, MCD, CCC-SLP