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Can you hear me now?

Study: Hearing loss in teens on the increase

August 23, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Audiologists and national medical organizations encourage teens to lower the volume on their music players to prevent hearing loss.
Photo Illustration,

A recent national study reported that nearly one out of five teens has some form of hearing loss.

Perhaps it's time to quiet down.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released the results of a study Wednesday, Aug. 18, that examined the prevalence of hearing loss in youths ages 12 to 19, and found there was a greater prevalence of hearing loss among teens between 2005 and 2006 compared with 1988 to 1994.

The report didn't assign blame to listening devices as the cause of the problem, but audiologists and national medical organizations have been encouraging teens to lower the volume on their music players and to take note of the noise in their environments.

"That's one thing we can prevent," said Dr. Peg Eackles, a senior audiologist and director of Hearing Care Center east of Hagerstown.

Eackles said she hasn't noticed more young people streaming into her office at Robinwood Medical Center - yet.

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"I might be seeing them at 30," she said.

Sound is carried through air in vibrations or pressure waves, according to http://www.school-for-champions.com, the website for School for Champions, an Lake Oswego, Ore.-based academic publishing company. The waves are physical, and louder sounds result in stronger waves. When sounds are too loud, the waves permanently sever hair follicles at the ends of nerve endings responsible for hearing.

"Once they're gone, they're gone," Eackles said.

She said the problem with listening to loud music via earbuds is that it has a cumulative effect - unlike the sudden onset of hearing loss one might experience after hearing a loud explosion or bang.

"You don't think about it because it doesn't hurt," Eackles said.

Sound is measured in decibels. To put things in context, whispers are a mere 30 decibels, according to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), a website Eackles often points her patients to. Moderate rainfall registers at 50 decibels, according to the ASHA. Conversations are about 60 decibels.

People risk hearing loss when sound levels rise reach the 80- or 90-decibel mark, she said. Couple that with loud everyday household noises - like mowing the lawn, cranking up the volume on the TV or using loud household appliances - and you could be compounding the issue.

There are ways parents can protect their kids' hearing.

Listentoyourbuds.org is a public education campaign aimed at reducing noise-induced hearing loss. Apple encourages "responsible listening" and allows users to adjust the volume settings to select a maximum sound level on their iPods and iPhones. Apple provides instructions at apple.com/sound.

The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders provides information on a kid-centric website, noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov.

Eackles said as a general rule of thumb, if you're finding yourself having to elevate your voice to talk over the sound, it's too loud.

"If you're sitting next to someone with earbuds and you can say, 'Hey, I like that song,'" Eackles said, "it's too loud."

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