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What Is ABR Testing?

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Updated June 16, 2014

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

Question: What Is ABR Testing?
Answer:

Auditory-brain stem response (ABR) testing is used to evaluate the function of the auditory nerve, cochlea and hearing pathways in brain. It is routinely performed on babies and is sometimes used to detect hearing loss in adults.

ABR testing is actually not a true test of hearing, but a surrogate assessment for people who cannot cooperate with regular behavioral testing -- such as young children and those mentally or developmentally delayed or challenged.

This form of testing is not painful, although you may need to be sedated in certain situations, which usually involves the placement of an IV.

How ABR Testing Is Performed

First, electrodes will be placed on the forehead, scalp and earlobes. Small headphones are put inside of each ear. The electrodes measure brain waves. After all equipment is in place, a series of clicks, hisses, and other sounds will be played. The brain's response to these sounds is recorded and used to determine the level of hearing.

ABR is commonly performed on newborn infants to screen their hearing and is often used in conjunction with oto-accoustic emissions(OAE) testing. ABR is also sometimes called brain stem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing.

If you or your baby do not pass ABR testing, it does not necessarily point to deafness or permanent hearing loss. Further testing is needed. Common reasons for not passing ABR include: fluid inside the middle ear space or a blocked ear canal. Likewise, even if your baby does pass ABR testing, she may still develop hearing problems later in life despite her hearing being intact at the time of testing.

Sources:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Hearing Screening. Accessed: May 24, 2010 from http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/testing/

Seattle Children's Hospital Research Foundation. Newborn Hearing Screening. Accessed: May 24, 2010 from http://www.seattlechildrens.org/classes-community/community-programs/newborn-hearing-screening/about-screening/

University of Michigan Health System. Auditory-Brain Stem Response Testing for Adults. Accessed: May 24, 2010 from http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/tests/testa14.htm

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