Auditory Brainstem Response Evaluation

  • If our doctors suspect that your child has sensorineural hearing loss, she will be given an Auditory Brainstem Response Evaluation (ABR). This simple test evaluates how well sounds travel along her hearing nerve pathways from the ear to the brainstem. The test, performed while she's comfortably sedated, shows the softest sounds your child's ears can detect at various pitches.

    How Boston Children's approaches ABR

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    Your child will be seen by members of our Diagnostic Audiology Program, which specializes in all aspects of infant and child hearing loss, from psychological effects to technological assistance. Our team has more than 11,000 visits each year.

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    Contact Us

    General Otolaryngology Program
    Boston Children's Hospital Boston
    333 Longwood Avenue 3rd Floor
    Boston MA 02115 
    617-355-6460 

  • What is an ABR Evaluation?

    An Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test is a sleep EEG hearing test that identifies the softest sounds your child's ears can detect at various pitches. EEG tests measure brain electrical activity.

    How will the test be performed?

    Your child will be asleep or sedated for the test, and you will be present in the testing room throughout. The test is very comfortable and painless, but it is necessary for your child to be asleep in order to obtain clear recordings during the test. Children over the age of six months are usually sedated with chloral hydrate. There will be three or four small stickers on your child's head, connected to leads going into a computer. Sounds will be presented through an earphone to each ear separately while a computer analyzes the changes in the brain wave pattern in response to sounds. ABR evaluations take approximately 2-3 hours, and the results are available right away. Don't worry if your child is very sleepy after the test; this is normal.

    What should I bring to the test?

    Maximize your child's comfort by bringing anything that helps her fall asleep, like a blanket or a toy. If you think your child will be heavy to carry afterward, bring a stroller. Your child will need to drink after the test, so bring clear liquid, like water.

    What can my child eat or drink before the test?

    If your child is less than six months old, please avoid solid food, milk, or formula for 4 hours before the test. If your child is older than six months, avoid solid food, milk, or formula for 6 hours before the test. Be sure to give your child plenty of clear liquids, like water, breast milk, or apple juice, up to 2 hours before the test.


  • Research study involving ABRE

    The aim of a study taking place in the Division of Developmental Medicine is to determine the long-term effects of iron deficiency in infancy. Specifically, 1200 10-year-old Chilean children who participated in a previous study as infants and preschoolers are receiving broad-based evaluations of the effects of a long-term preventive trial. One exciting aspect of this large project involves the assessment of long-term neuromaturational effects in a subset of 200 children.

    Some neurophysiologic aspects that are being examined include auditory brainstem response, visual evoked potentials, spontaneous motor activity (using Actigraphic recordings), sleep-wake cycle (using polysomnographic recordings), heart rate variability, neuroendocrine patterns, and the evaluation of neurocognitive functioning using ERPs. Children’s role in this involves the implementation of ERPs to assess recognition memory and response inhibition. ERPs are being used in this context in order to examine the long-lasting impairment of specific cognitive processes in early iron deficiency.

The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO
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