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The University of Southampton
Medicine

Improving the prospects of babies with hearing impairment

Research at the University of Southampton was central to policymakers in the UK and over several continents recommending universal new born screening (UNS) for permanent childhood hearing impairment (PCHI). This common condition adversely affects language acquisition but early detection enables effective interventions. Immediately following our studies three million UK babies were screened and 5,000 cases identified benefitting literacy, academic success, well-being and employment.

Research Challenge

Affecting over one in 1400 babies born in England each year PCHI can have adverse effects on a child’s neuronal development, language skills and educational outcomes. However if PCHI is detected at an early age, children can be provided with educational support, hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Context

Prior to 2001 the standard test for PCHI in the UK was the health visitor distraction test. Health workers attempted to distract babies with noise and then assess reactions. However the problems of this method included its subjectivity and the relatively late developmental age, at seven months, at which it can be carried out.

Our solution

Southampton research teams demonstrated that tests combining low level sound detection with automated auditory brain stem testing were effective as a universal newborn screening for low level hearing impairment.

A following trial showed that newborn screening increased the odds of PCHI case referral prior to six months 19 fold and a further study identified that newborn screening more than doubled the proportion of all true cases referred before age six months.

These cases were studied again at aged 7-9 years with an additional cohort that showed higher receptive language skills and lower educational costs.

What was the impact?

Pivotal research led by Southampton has seen the widespread introduction of universal newborn screening programmes and improved the quality of life of many thousands of babies and their families in the UK and worldwide.

The introduction of universal newborn screening by the NHS has led to a huge reduction in the age of identification of PCHI dramatically reducing the age of clinical interventions. The benefits of early treatment on the development of neural pathways and language impact the child, wider society and UK economy.

To date it is estimated that five million babies in England have been screened and over 8,000 identified with PCHI.

tests combining low level sound detection with automated auditory brain stem testing were effective as a universal newborn screening for low level hearing impairment.
Newborn screen for hearing

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Key Publications

List of all staff members in
Staff MemberPrimary Position
Colin KennedyProfessor in Neurology and Paediatrics, Consultant and Clinical Lead in Paediatric Neurology
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