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What is UNHS?

Updated on July 29, 2020

Detect and Connect.

Have you ever thought about how you would feel when the world shouts and you don’t hear, when you find the whole world is quiet and a terrible silence is all you can sense? That simple thought itself might make your blood run cold, isn’t it?

“ Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” These famous words of Helen Keller very well say how it would feel to be deaf. Now imagine you are blessed with a cute little munchkin and he is going through this. The doctors may do some basic physical checkups and apprise you that your child is perfect. It will be blissful to eye him grow up into a big boy each day. On his first birthday, you notice that he hasn’t called you ‘MOM’ yet. Time flies and you gradually start realizing that your child has a speech delay. You take him to the nearby clinic. He might be administered by some tests and the results say that he is hearing impaired by birth. You ask for intervention options but the effectiveness of those interventions will be less because it’s too late already.

We can’t even think about something like this happening to our child, not even in our wildest dreams but this is a pathetic situation many parents around us are going through. We can stop all this from occurring by taking a single and simple step. Newborn hearing screening. Newborn hearing screening helps to assess your child’s hearing by administering some physiological tests. How many of us are aware of this? I would say, a very few people. In India, Awareness on newborn hearing screening is still in its infancy.

Hearing loss can be inflicted due to many reasons such as certain kind of infections, premature birth, low birth weight, birth injuries, maternal alcohol, and illicit drug use, jaundice, Rh incompatibility, maternal diabetes, high blood pressure while pregnant, the baby not having enough oxygen during birth and genetics.

According to the study conducted by Archana Rai S, Lecturer, Nitte Institute of Speech and Hearing, Medical Sciences Complex, Mangalore, India, Hearing Impairment is one of the most prevalent sensory deficits in India; out of 1000 neonates approximately 5 to 6 infants are diagnosed with Hearing Impairment (HI). As per the Rehabilitation Council of India, 4 out of every 1000 live birth are found to have severe to profound hearing loss. By birth hearing loss is termed as congenital hearing impairment, usually goes unnoticed by parents or caregivers. HI is an invisible handicap, leading to impaired social communication, language development, and quality of life. A neonate born with HI appears as healthy as a normal child. HI demonstrates irreversible deficits in psychological, communication and literacy skills. There is clear evidence that HI in early stages of life leads to structural and functional reorganization at cerebral level. Mason and Mason reported that HI children shows impaired socioemotional development, low academic achievement, underemployment, increased social maladaptation and psychological distress. In hearing unscreened populations, children with severe to profound hearing losses typically graduate from high school with the language and reading level of a 9 to 10-year-old and these limits their literacy as well as their vocational status. Therefore, early detection is a vital element in providing appropriate support for children with hearing impairment which would help them to enjoy equal opportunities in society alongside their peers.

UNHS (Universal Newborn Hearing Screening of all infants) is a program advocated by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 and is adopted by many western countries. It’s based on evidence that early diagnosis and intervention allow for improved outcomes in hearing impaired children. UNHS programs aims for screening by one month of age, confirmation of the diagnosis by 3 months, with intervention by 6 months. Amongst all the medical institutions in India only 38.09% carry out newborn hearing screening, which implies that more than half of the medical set ups do not carry out newborn hearing screening. Hence, children who are born in these setups and whose parents are unaware of UNHS are at higher risk of being missed out.

According to the study conducted in India, only 35% of parents were aware of UNHS while 65% were not aware of UNHS.

So it’s crucial that every parent should make sure that your newborn is administered with hearing screening test by an audiologist. What test is used by an audiologist to screen newborns? Currently, 2 tests are mainly used, OAE ( Otoacoustic Emission) and ABR ( Auditory Brainstem Response). These are non-invasive automated physiological test that can be performed at the bedside. If your child is hearing impaired, the audiologist may introduce you to either hearing aids or implantation based on the etiology and degree of hearing loss.

A child’s hearing is so crucial for development. Even partial hearing loss can result in an impaired ability to speak and acquire language. So let’s make sure that our child’s disability doesn’t stop them from dreaming big, aspiring and conquering the world. Our slip up may end up jeopardizing our child’s future. So next time never pretermit to make an appointment with an audiologist for your tiny tot. Remember audiologists are ear-replaceable.


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