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Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Test

What Is an Auditory Brainstem Response Test?

An auditory brainstem response (ABR) test is a safe and painless test to see how the hearing nerves and brain respond to sounds. It gives health care providers information about possible hearing loss.

Why Are Auditory Brainstem Response Tests Done?

ABRs are done when:

  • A baby fails a newborn hearing screening.
  • A child is too young to do a regular hearing test in a sound booth or has a medical or developmental problem that makes sitting still and responding to the sounds of a regular hearing test difficult.

How Should We Prepare for an ABR?

Preparing for the test depends on your child's age.

If your child is:

  • Younger than 6 months, the ABR can usually be done without sedation. Your baby must sleep during the entire test. To help your baby stay asleep:
    • In the hours before the test, don't feed your baby or let your baby sleep.
    • Arrive for the test when your baby is hungry and tired but awake.
    • Before the test begins, the audiologist (hearing specialist) will ask you to feed your baby and get your little one comfortable. Your baby can sleep in your arms or a crib for the test.
  • 6 months or older, the ARB might be done with sedation. This will help your child stay completely still and quiet during the test.

If sedation is needed, you will get instructions about fasting before the test and what to do at home after the test.

How Is an ABR Done?

An audiologist places small earphones in the child's ears and soft electrodes (small sensor stickers) near the ears and on the forehead. Clicking sounds and tones go through the earphones, and electrodes measure how the hearing nerves and brain respond to the sounds.

Can I Stay With My Child During an ABR?

If your child has an unsedated ABR, you can stay with your child during the test.

If your child has a sedated ABR, ask if you can stay with your child during the test. You might need to stay in the waiting room during the test. 

How Long Does an ABR Take?

An ABR test usually takes 1–2 hours, but the appointment may last about 3 hours. If a sleeping baby wakes up during the test, the test will take longer because the baby will need to fall back asleep again to finish the test. Children who have a sedated ABR may go to a recovery area while they wake up from the sedation.

What Happens After an ABR?

The audiologist will let you know how the test went and discuss the next steps with you.

If your child was sedated, a member of the sedation team will explain what to do over the next few hours. Most sedation wears off within 1–2 hours.

When Are the ABR Results Ready?

The audiologist will discuss the test with you when it's done. A final report with recommendations will be available in a few weeks. If a hearing loss is found, the report also will go to the newborn hearing screening coordinator in your state.

Are There Any Risks From ABRs?

No. ABRs are safe, do not hurt, and do not have any side effects. If your child needs sedation, discuss the risks and benefits with your health care provider or sedation team before the test.

Date reviewed: October 2017

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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