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Auditory Evoked Potentials - How does newborn hearing screening work?

T he AEP ( auditory evoked potentials ) test is a test offered to all infants. So what is the purpose of an AEP and how is it performed? We ...

The AEP (auditory evoked potentials) test is a test offered to all infants. So what is the purpose of an AEP and how is it performed? We interviewed Fabienne Kochert, a pediatrician in Orléans and member of the AFPA.

Auditory Evoked Potentials - How does newborn hearing screening work?
Auditory Evoked Potentials - How does newborn hearing screening work? 

The PEA test: what is it?

AEP, also called "auditory evoked potentials", is a test performed in a maternity ward or neonatal unit, enabling hearing screening of newborns. Although it is not mandatory, it is systematically suggested to parents just after the birth of their child. "For this same screening, a test called OAS "oto-acoustic emission" can also be proposed, explains Fabienne Kochert. Both tests have the same purpose: it all depends on the equipment in the maternity wards."  

The importance of early hearing diagnosis

The PEA test is performed in the days following birth. "It's important to do this hearing screening as early as possible," insists the specialist. The diagnosis of a child's hearing loss must be made as early as possible so as not to delay treatment.  "Many children will benefit from cochlear implants, which will allow them to hear and acquire oral language. In the case of late diagnosis, management is more complicated and auditory recovery is more uncertain; hearing areas have not been stimulated, they atrophy and it becomes much more difficult to recover hearing function." 

How does the hearing AEP test work?

The AEP test works as follows: a helmet is placed over the baby's ears and electrodes are placed on the baby's skull. The electrodes record the electrical activity generated by the activation of the hearing nerve cells. A small noise in the headphones stimulates the cochlea, the organ of hearing. Activation of the cochlea then causes a series of electrical impulses in the auditory nerve cells that transmit the activation to the brain. "It is this electrical activity, a sign of good hearing, that is recorded by the device, simplifies the pediatrician. If the device indicates OK, no problem, the test is normal. However, if there is no electrical activity, it may mean that either the cochlea is not working or there is damage to the hearing nerve or brain areas of hearing. "  

The PEA test: what are the consequences?

If the PEA test is normal, no further action will be taken. However, if there is a problem, a second test will be carried out a fortnight later under the same conditions. There is no need to panic if the test presents an anomaly," reassures Fabienne Kochert. Sometimes there is a small plug in the ear or a little amniotic fluid in the middle ear, which can interfere with the transmission of noise, thus distorting the test result. It is therefore necessary to start again. "If the AEP is still missing on the second test, further tests will be necessary. The baby will be referred by the pediatrician in the maternity or neonatology department to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) referral service for in-depth examinations to allow for a precise diagnosis and early management.

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