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What is an OAE (Otoacoustic Emissions) Hearing Test?

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Updated June 11, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What is an OAE (Otoacoustic Emissions) Hearing Test?
Answer:

OAE stands for otoacoustic emissions, the name for the sounds produced by the cochlea. These sounds can be used to test the function of the cochlea and other parts of the ear, including the auditory nerve. The hearing test is also called OAE and is usually performed on newborn babies to detect deafness. It can also be used on adults to test for hearing loss and is commonly used in conjunction with the ABR (Auditory Brainstem Response) hearing test.

OAE testing is not painful and many babies sleep right through it. Small probes are placed in the ear. One delivers sound and the other is a microphone. If the cochlea is functioning properly it should echo in response to the sound. OAE testing cannot definitively diagnose hearing loss or deafness. If you fail OAE testing you will need further hearing tests to determine if there is hearing loss or not. Sometimes OAE testing is inaccurate because an infant is fussy during the test and sometimes babies have fluid in their ears or other conditions that can cause them to fail the test even though they do not have any permanent hearing loss.

Sources:

NDCS. Newborn Hearing Screening. Accessed: May 28, 2010 from http://www.ndcs.org.uk/family_support/newborn_hearing_screening/index.html#contentblock2

Utah Department of Health. Children With Special Health Care Needs. Otoacoustic Emission Screening. Accessed: May 26, 2010 from http://health.utah.gov/cshcn/SVS/otoacoustic.html

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