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Pediatric Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Clearance



Some children – such as infants or those with developmental delays – are not able to have their hearing tested effectively with traditional behavioral tests. The Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test is a painless test that measures your child’s hearing nerve’s response to sound. It can also tell doctors that each individual ear is working normally or, if not, what the level of hearing loss is.

An ABR hearing test may or may not require anesthesia or sedation. Children’s Health is one of the only places in the region that can put a child to sleep for this type of test. We have advanced pediatric anesthesia facilities and an extensive team of audiologists with extensive expertise treating children and babies. Sometimes, with babies, we can use sleep sedation, in which they fall asleep just from feeding.

What to Expect

The Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test evaluates the auditory brain stem (the part of the nerve that carries sound from the ear to the brain) and the brain’s response to sound.

During this test, miniature earphones are placed in the ear and sounds are played. Band-Aid-like electrodes are placed along your child’s head to detect the brain’s response to the sounds.  If your child’s brain does not respond to all the sounds, your child could have hearing trouble. Through this test, we can provide you with specific information about your child’s level of hearing.

For babies 6 months or younger, the test will be administered while they sleep. We attempt to administer the test twice while the baby is asleep. If we are unsuccessful, we can put them under anesthesia.

For older children up to age 7, the test will usually be administered under anesthesia, which means your child will need medication to help him or her sleep through the test. If your physician determines our child will need anesthesia, it is important you follow directions about not allowing your child to eat or drink in the hours before the test. Children older than age 7 are usually able to relax and lie still and will not need anesthesia.

When the test is complete, your audiologist will discuss the results with you.


Why does my child need an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test?

The test may have been ordered if your child failed the newborn screening test, or for an older child when there is a concern about a hearing loss that cannot be confirmed through other tests. It may be performed if doctors are concerned that one or both ears aren’t working normally.

Will my child feel any pain during the test?

The Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test is a painless test.

Why will my child need anesthesia?

For the best test results, your child must be able to relax and lie still. For children between ages 6 months and age 7, that is difficult to do and anesthesia is necessary to help them sleep throughout the test.

What if a hearing problem is discovered?

If a hearing loss is diagnosed, we will refer you to a care team that includes an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, teachers and, when needed, a psychologist. Early intervention is an important step in treating your child for hearing loss. The audiologist will discuss next steps at the end of the procedure.


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