Over the last 25 years, technological developments have facilitated the implementation of neonatal screens for hearing impairment. Restricting tests to 10% of the cohort with risk factors enables detection of around 40% of congenital impairments. Critical review has therefore recommended universal screening targeting for identification all neonates with moderate or worse impairment. Both oto-acoustic emission and auditory brainstem response (ABR) recording make this possible. The emission test is very sensitive to mild impairments. Specificity critically depends upon the age of maternity testing, but a false positive rate of 8% at discharge is typical. This is reduced to <1% by implementing a second outpatient test, or an ABR before discharge. Both tests are required to identify auditory neuropathies. Widespread implementation will follow pilot trials that are currently being undertaken. The accurate assessment of screen positives, and appropriate habilitation for those identified, is also required. These needs are complex, and require further study if universal screening is to become routine.
Copyright 2002 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.