A new test is being piloted in Sussex which can check a child's hearing at just ten days old.

Little Oscar Kirkman-Horne is only a month old but his parents already know his hearing is fine.

Ordinarily, they would have had to wait until he was eight months old for him to have a test done.

This would have involved checking his response to a sound like a rattle or clapping hands and seeing if there were any potential problems.

Any difficulties picked up at that stage would have meant the intervening months in which work could have started on developing the baby's communication with others would have been lost.

The vast majority of children do not have any problems anyway but for those who do, the earlier they are detected the quicker work can start on helping them.

This does not automatically mean the child will be cured and not have to have a hearing aid in the future but at least it will give them a head start.

From the end of this month, specialist testing equipment will be used as a matter of course on the 3,000 babies born in the Brighton and Hove area every year.

The simple test is extremely quick and accurate and can be carried out at home.

A foam tip is placed against the baby's ear and a sound is made by a specialist piece of equipment which has a microphone attached.

This can detect whether the baby has heard the sound, even when asleep.

Health visitors will carry out the test in family homes when they make their first visit to the newborn baby.

Health visitor Lorna Davies, who works for South Downs Health NHS Trust, said: "The test is accurate and it is quick. Because it is done in the home, it is easier and less stressful all round. "There are a lot of people in this area who choose to have their baby at home rather than in hospital.

"If they don't have to go into a clinic or a hospital to have the hearing test done, it is an added bonus."

Oscar's mother Carol, from Hove, said: "It is very reassuring to get the test done so early because then if they find a problem something can be done about it."

Consultant audiological scientist Rob Low, who is based at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, said: "This is a valid test that can be carried out very early with the big advantage that we can identify any difficulties quickly.

"This is important because early information is vital so that parents and professionals can help the baby develop the very best communication."

If difficulties are found, a child will be seen in the first instance at a local clinic by a specialist doctor or nurse.

Sometimes parents will be asked to have the test repeated because catarrh may be present in the ears of very young babies.

Babies who are still in the Trevor Mann Baby Unit at the Royal Sussex after ten days will be tested there when they are fit enough.

There are many reasons why children are born deaf or lose their hearing later on but few children are totally deaf. Most have some hearing on some frequencies at certain volumes.

There are three types of deafness, each with different causes and implications.

Conductive deafness is the most common. It means sound cannot pass through the outer and middle ear to the cochlea and auditory nerve. This is often caused by blockages such as wax in the ear canal or fluid in the middle ear and is commonly known as Glue Ear.

Nerve deafness usually means the cochlea is not processing the sound effectively. The cause is often unknown but it can sometimes be due to infectious diseases such as rubella, mumps, measles or meningitis.

Shortage of oxygen in the bloodstream at birth or some other birth trauma can also be a cause. Premature babies are more at risk of having a hearing loss.

Mixed deafness is when a child has a mixture of conductive and nerve deafness.

The National Deaf Children's Society is the only UK charity exclusively dedicated to supporting all deaf children, young deaf people and their families in overcoming the challenges of childhood deafness.

More details are available from its helpline on 0808 800 8880 or its web site at www.ndcs.co.uk.