Objective: To formulate an alternative strategy for universal infants hearing screening in an Indian tertiary referral hospital with a high delivery rate, which could be extended to similar situations in other developing countries. The system should be able to diagnose, in a timely fashion, all infants with severe and profound hearing losses.
Methods: One thousand newborn were randomly selected. All underwent testing with transient evoked oto-acoustic emissions (TEOAE) in the first 48 hours of life. All TEOAE failures were followed up and repeat tests were performed at three weeks, three months and six months of age. Infants with acceptable TEOAE results at any of the four ages were discharged from the study. Infants with unacceptable TEOAE results at all the four ages underwent brainstem evoked response audiometry and oto-endoscopy. The ‘pass rate’ for TEOAE testing was calculated for all four ages. The time taken to perform TEOAE and brainstem evoked response audiometry was recorded for all subjects. These recordings were statistically analysed to find the most suitable strategy for universal hearing screening in our hospital.
Results: The pass rate for TEOAE was 79.0 per cent at ≤48 hours, 85.0 per cent at three weeks, 97.0 per cent at three months and 98.0 per cent at six months. The average time taken to perform the test was 12 minutes for TEOAE and 27 minutes for brainstem evoked response audiometry. Obstructed and collapsed external auditory canals were the two factors that significantly affected the specificity of TEOAE in infants ≤48 hours old.
Conclusion: The concept of screening all neonates within the first 48 hours of life is impractical because the specificity of TEOAE is lowest at that age. Many false positive results are generated, such that a larger number must undergo brainstem evoked response audiometry, wasting time and resources. This can easily be avoided by delaying TEOAE screening until three months of age, when it has a substantially lower false positive outcome. We expect that implementation of this alternative strategy in our hospital will maximise the benefits of such a programme.