Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR)
The Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test is a helpful tool in determining a child’s ability to hear. An ABR is often ordered if a newborn fails the hearing screening test given in the hospital, or for older children if there is a suspicion of hearing loss that was not confirmed through more conventional hearing tests. The test uses a special computer to measure the way the child’s hearing nerve responds to different sounds. Electrodes will be placed on the child’s head and connected to a computer. As sounds are made through the earphones, the electrodes measure how the child’s hearing nerves respond to them.
The audiologist looks for certain neurological "markers" as the child’s hearing nerves respond to sounds. The softest intensity or loudness level at which these markers appear roughly corresponds to the child’s hearing level in that frequency range. By interpreting a computer printout of your child’s responses, the audiologist can tell if your child has a hearing problem.
How to prepare for your child's appointment
ABR testing can be completed only if the child is sleeping or lying perfectly still, relaxed and with his or her eyes closed.
- If your child is younger than 6 months of age, the ABR test usually can be done while he or she naps. Most young babies will sleep through the entire test if they are brought to the appointment ready for a feeding and a nap. Try to keep your baby awake and hold off feeding him or her until you get to the appointment.
- If your child is older, the ABR test usually can be done while your child is awake if he or she can relax and lie still. The test will be done in a special sound-treated suite in the Audiology department.
What comes next?
The audiologist will let you know the test results and discuss the next steps with you. These results will be shared with the child’s primary care provider. Hearing loss has many causes: some are genetic or non-genetic. A combination of genetic and non-genetic factors also can cause hearing loss. For many, the cause of hearing loss is unknown.