Identification of neonatal hearing impairment: characteristics of infants in the neonatal intensive care unit and well-baby nursery

Ear Hear. 2000 Oct;21(5):373-82. doi: 10.1097/00003446-200010000-00005.


Objective: The objective of this study was to describe the demographic data, medical status, and incidence of risk factors for hearing impairment in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and well-baby populations in a multicenter prospective study designed to assess neonatal hearing impairment and to evaluate factors that might affect neonatal hearing test performance.

Design: This was a prospective multicenter study funded by the National Institutes of Health-National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to evaluate the effectiveness of auditory brain stem response, transient evoked otoacoustic emissions, and distortion product otoacoustic emissions for newborn hearing screening. Research staff at each site obtained informed consent and detailed demographic and medical data, including information on established risk factors for hearing loss on 4478 high-risk infants cared for in the NICU, 2348 infants from the well-baby nurseries with no risk factor, and 353 infants from the well-baby nurseries with risk factors. For follow-up purposes the sample was divided further to include a subgroup called selects. Selects were either infants from the well-baby nursery who had an established risk factor for hearing impairment (N = 353) or did not pass the neonatal hearing screen protocol (N = 80). In this study, we focus on the distribution of infants by nursery and risk factors only. Particular effort was made to enroll infants with risk factors for hearing loss in both the NICU and well-baby nurseries. Descriptive analyses are used to describe characteristics of this sample.

Results: All 10 of the risk factors established by the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing in 1994 were identified in the NICU population. The four most common were ototoxic medications (44.4%), very low birth weight (17.8%), assisted ventilation > 5 days (16.4%), and low Apgar scores at 1 or 5 min (13.9%). In contrast, only six risk factors were present in the well-baby nurseries: family history (6.6%), craniofacial abnormalities (3.4%), low Apgar scores (2.8%), syndromes (0.5%), ototoxic medications (0.2%), and congenital infection (0.1%).

Conclusion: These descriptive risk factor data reflect both the newborn populations at the study sites and the bias for enrolling infants at risk for hearing loss. The high-risk NICU sample reflects the characteristics typically found in graduates of the NICU. The data summarized in this study will be used to assess the relationships between risk factor and hearing test outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Hearing Disorders / diagnosis
  • Hearing Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Hearing Disorders / etiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Male
  • Neonatal Screening*
  • Nurseries, Infant*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index