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When Baby Has a Hearing Problem

Your newborn probably had a hearing test before she left the hospital. Which is great, since babies who get help for hearing problems in their first six months stand a better chance of learning to talk normally than those who are diagnosed later on.

What's not so great: If your baby didn't pass the test, the help she needs -- starting with a thorough evaluation by a pediatric audiologist -- can be hard to find.

According to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, many pediatricians don't know how important it is for babies to get a quick follow-up: An infant who's found to be even mildly to moderately deaf needs to be seen within weeks, not months, says Albert Mehl, M.D., who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics's task force on improving newborn hearing screening. To make things even tougher, there's a nationwide shortage of qualified audiologists and intervention programs.

So if your baby failed her hearing test, first ask your doctor for a referral to an audiologist. The wait is typically six to eight weeks, so Dr. Mehl recommends keeping in close contact with the hospital audiologist and your pediatrician -- they can go to bat for you if you run up against long delays.

Also, do some legwork yourself by checking these sites:

  • cdc.gov/ncbddd/ehdi (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Gives info about state Early Hearing Detection and Intervention programs, which vary widely but are all getting better, according to Dr. Mehl.

  • ncbegin.org (BEGINNINGS) Offers links to organizations across the country that can provide help.

  • babyhearing.org (Boys Town National Research Hospital) Includes basic education about hearing loss in infants and young children, as well as tips for families dealing with it.

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