The Ontario Infant Hearing Program (IHP) provides universal newborn hearing screening in hospital or community settings to identify newborns with permanent hearing loss (PHL) and support their language development so they will be ready to start school.
The IHP also offers monitoring for children who are at increased risk of developing hearing loss, in the following ways:
- Babies with certain risks for PHL recognized at the time of hearing screening are offered monitoring for hearing loss through the IHP.
- All babies who have hearing screening are offered risk factor screening for PHL using the sample already collected by the hospital or midwife for routine newborn screening (the heel prick test).
- This screening is performed by Newborn Screening Ontario (NSO) and specifically looks for Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and some common genetic risk factors for PHL.
- Babies with these risk factors have a higher chance of having PHL at birth or of developing it in early childhood and, when found through screening, can be connected with the appropriate audiology and medical follow-up.
Babies and children who are identified with hearing loss as early as possible can have access to support and services sooner and have better outcomes.
Risk factor screening for PHL started in Ontario for babies born on or after July 29, 2019. This screening is offered to parents/guardians at the time the infant hearing screening is done, or when the hearing screening appointment is booked.
From May 2018 until July 29, 2019, screening for CMV infection was offered for babies who had a refer result to an audiologist because they did not pass their hearing screening or because a strong risk factor for PHL was recognized at birth. Babies who screen positive for CMV on this targeted screen are referred directly to an Infectious Diseases Clinic for further evaluation.
IMPORTANT NOTIFICATION (March 2020)
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and discontinuation of non-essential services, the Infant Hearing Program (IHP) is postponing all audiometric hearing screening and is temporarily unable to obtain consent for risk factor screening for PHL. After careful review by the Ontario Ministries of Health (MOH) and Children Community and Social Services (MCCSS), a decision was made to continue with the risk factor screening program. All specimens from babies born on or after March 26, 2020 will be screened for CMV and genetic risk factors for PHL without the need for additional consent by the IHP. Screen positive results continue to be referred for medical and audiologic follow-up. These are temporary measures, and we will revert to our original consent practice as soon as the IHP returns to regular operations. Please contact NSO if you have any questions.