State legislation now requires that newborns receive a hearing screening before leaving the hospital.
Area hospitals are administering the tests to newborns and then making referrals to audiologists or physicians if needed, said June Jett, nurse manager at the birthing center at United Hospital Center.
"It's painless for the baby," Jett said. "The test is a good idea because sometimes babies are deaf and it might not show up until later."
It takes only 10 seconds to determine whether or not hearing loss is present, said Peggy Knight, nurse manager of the birthing center at Davis Memorial Hospital.
Babies born with normal hearing can detect sound from the left and right sides, according to Barb Litton, audiologist at Hearing Services of the Potomac Highlands.
As they grow, the child will follow sounds and seek out the source of the noise, Litton said. They also will associate sounds with certain people and recognize parent's voices, she added.
"So many aspects of a child's development revolves around what is heard," she said. "Hearing is closely related to a child's progress in communication."
A normal hearing diagnosis at birth doesn't necessarily guarantee it for life, Litton said. Protecting a child's hearing is something Litton advises parents to begin early.
Using caution when choosing toys can help safeguard a child's hearing, Litton said. Rattles and squeaky toys for infants can emit sounds as high as 110 decibels, which is equivalent to power tools and factory machinery, Litton said.
"A squeaky toy that is squeezed close to an infant's ear can cause permanent hearing damage," she said. "Use common sense. If a toy sounds too loud, it probably is. Don't buy it."
Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1443.