The epidemiology of childhood hearing impairments was studied in a clinical series of the birth cohorts for 1973-82 and 1983-92 from a geographically well-defined area. The overall prevalence of hearing impairments with PTA0.5-4 kHz > or = 40 dB was 1.2/1000 live births. Even in the later cohort, the median age ascertainment was 2.6 years for the congenital or early acquired group and 3.0 years for all impairments. Risk indicators for hearing impairment were present in half of the children, and those referred for the risk were ascertained at the median age of 1.1 years. The delay from suspicion to ascertainment was over a year in about one fifth of cases, while the median time from referral to ascertainment was only 1.8 months. The planning and implementation of neonatal hearing screening are suggested, and general information is given on paedoaudiology for both parents and professionals. A database could be beneficial in increasing the systemacy of the diagnostic process.