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About SickKids

May 20, 2014

SickKids expert says infant hearing screening program is needed in Canada

Approximately 2,000 Canadian children are born with hearing impairment each year, which is sufficient evidence that Canada should implement a national infant hearing screening program, says Dr. Blake Papsin, Otolaryngologist-in-Chief at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

In a commentary published in the May 20 online edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, CMAJ, Papsin writes that universal screening for infant hearing is accurate, effective, and ultimately cost-saving. Six provinces currently offer infant hearing screening (Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) but Canada is behind other developed countries because it lacks a national program covering all provinces and territories.

“Studies show that early intervention can improve language development, while late intervention can delay language often permanently,” says Papsin.

Some provinces have implemented screening based on risk factors (such as admission to a neonatal intensive care unit or congenital or craniofacial anomalies) because it has been considered cheaper than universal screening. But screening based on risk factors alone can miss about 50 per cent of infants with substantial hearing loss, which means these kids are identified at a much later age.

It is recommended that screening for infant hearing is done by one month of age either in hospital or in a primary-care setting. Hearing loss should be confirmed by three months, and an intervention implemented by six months of age.

“As a society, we have agreed to fund lung transplantation in Canada, despite its high cost, because it is considered worth the cost. Yet we have not implemented universal screening for infant hearing in all of our provinces and territories despite evidence that it is cost-saving,” says Papsin. “All health-care providers in Canada should advocate for universal screening for infant hearing, and consider the possibility of hearing loss when examining newborns and infants.”