A hearing screening is a process of testing to determine whether an individual has normal hearing or some degree of hearing loss. Often, these tests are performed when an infant is born as well as periodically throughout childhood. Adults may also have hearing tests at their request, when hearing problems are noted, or when injuries or medical conditions make hearing loss a possibility. Often, hearing screening is used to separate people into two categories: those with hearing loss and those without it. A specialist's help may be needed to determine how severe hearing loss is and how to handle the problem.
While adults may have hearing screening tests as necessary, children are often tested based on a schedule determined by local laws or the recommendations of medical authorities. Many places have early intervention schedules that require doctors to check children frequently in order to identify and treat hearing problems as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment can often influence how well speech develops in those with hearing loss as well as how they adapt to special techniques and programs designed to improve their hearing or help them adapt to hearing loss.
When hearing loss goes undetected, the consequences are serious. Children of all ages may struggle with learning, and younger children’s speech development may be impaired. School-aged children may avoid social situations and class participation, which often leads people to believe they have learning disabilities or are shy. Hearing loss may prove isolating for elderly individuals as well, contributing to emotional challenges and disrupting relationships with friends and family members.
One type of hearing screening used on infants is called an otoacoustic emissions test. This test involves the placement of a tiny microphone and earphone into the baby’s ear. Sounds are introduced into the ear via the earphone and echoes in the ear canal are picked up via the microphone. The echoes are measured to detect hearing loss.
Conventional audiometry is a type of hearing screening often used for school-aged children and adults. This test plays a series of tones, which children hear through earphones. Children are asked to raise their hands, point to one of their ears, or press a button each time they hear one of the tones.
In most places, adults submit to hearing screening voluntarily, and there are no laws that require doctors to suggest it at specific intervals. Some governments will require adult hearing tests for individuals working in particularly loud environments, however. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines these standards and requirements. Some hearing specialists also recommend that adults have their hearing screened at least once every 10 years before the age of 50. Once they are 50 years old, the recommendation often changes to once every three years.