Alberta Health Services is now offering a test to screen for permanent hearing loss in newborns.

The government announced the launch of the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program on Wednesday.

The program will try to screen newborns before they turn one month old, although parents can have them screened up to 90 days old. The babies that aren’t tested before leaving hospital can be tested at a community screening site.

The service will be freely offered at all 13 neonatal intensive care units in Alberta, many community sites, and postpartum units at most hospitals that see more than 200 births per year.

“The new hearing screening program will minimize the effects of hearing loss on babies by ensuring families receive the treatment and follow-up support they need,” Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman said in a statement.

The quick and pain-free test involves playing soft sounds into the child’s ears as they are sleeping or quiet. A computer measures how well the ears respond to the sound.

The hearing screening will determine how well a baby is hearing on the day of the test, and if further testing is needed. Those who do not pass the test will be sent for a specialized hearing test to rule out or confirm permanent hearing loss and determine its severity.

“It is important for babies to have their hearing screened as early as possible, ideally by one month of age,” said Tanis Howarth, director of provincial audiology.

“The earlier we can identify hearing loss, the earlier we can offer intervention services and support language development.”

Previously, newborn screening was only offered sporadically throughout Alberta.

Without screening, there are no obvious early signs that signal an infant has hearing loss. And even if a baby responds to sounds, they may not hear well enough to develop language.

The average age of diagnosis is 24 months.

Between 110 and 160 babies are born with permanent hearing loss every year in Alberta.