JAMA Logo Universal newborn hearing screening programs (UNHS) have been mandated by law in all birthing hospitals of Illinois since 2003. Well, it seems that UNHS are not as beneficial as previously thought. A groundbreaking study now asserts that over one-third of pediatric cochlear implant recipients pass UNHS only to be diagnosed later in infancy or early childhood.

As a part of the study, data from 391 children who received cochlear implants in Illinois from 1991 through 2008 were thoroughly evaluated. Implant patients were segregated into those born before mandatory UNHS and those born after the screening became legally required. While 264 kids formed the group that was born before mandatory, 127 children were enrolled in the group of those born after the screening became legally mandatory. 85 percent of those born after the law was implemented were screened at a much higher rate than 32.6 percent kids born before.

Authors comment, “Almost one-third of our pediatric implant recipients pass UNHS and are older at the time of initial diagnosis and implantation than their peers who fail UNHS. Delayed onset of sensorineural hearing loss [hearing loss stemming from the inner ear or central processing centers in the brain] limits our ability to achieve early diagnosis and implantation of a significant number of deaf children.”

Nancy Melinda Young, M.D., from Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago, and colleagues laid hands on 83 children representing 65.4 percent who were born after the UNHS mandate. These children apparently had a known cause of or at least one risk factor for hearing loss. Around 21 of those children presenting 25.3 percent allegedly passed hearing screenings. So overall, those screened after the UNHS mandate may be diagnosed with hearing loss at a younger age. Moreover, children who failed screenings were possibly diagnosed at an average age of 5.9 months and underwent implantation by the average age of 1.7 years.

The study was published in the March issue of Archives of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.