Hearing Loss on the Rise in Adolescents

A recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that hearing loss is now affecting 20% of US adolescents age 12-19 a rise of 5% over the past fifteen years. The study was led by Ron Eavey, MD  a professor in Otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University. The authors looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys since the 1980s. The survey included data on actual hearing test results in adolescents.

Another study performed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) found two disturbing pieces of information: teens listen to their iPods and MP3 players at volumes considerably louder than adults and, no surprise, the same teens are experiencing symptoms of hearing loss.

The surveys, done by telephone, asked 1,000 adults and 301 high school students across the U.S. about their listening habits. More than half (59 percent) of students reported playing their MP3 players “loudly,” compared with only 34 percent of adults.

The surveyed teens and adults were also asked if they suffered from the common symptoms of hearing loss including:

  • The need to continually turn up the volume while listening to music (28 percent of students and 26 percent of adults)
  • Regularly asking people to repeat themselves during normal conversation (29 percent of students and 21 percent of adults)
  • Suffering from ringing in the ears (17 percent of students and 12 percent of adults)

The researchers in the Vanderbilt study hypothesized that the increase in hearing loss was a result of increased sound volume that teens were exposed to, but admit the data has not confirmed the source of the problem. Experts have been concerned because improved headphones (buds deliver sound in a very directed and concentrated way)  be another factor. The ASHA survey concluded that it’s the combination of length of time and volume at which the teens are listening to music through headphones that is responsible for the damage.

Thankfully, teenagers seem to have some understanding of this. The ASHA’s survey shows that nearly 70 percent of students say that they are “likely” to turn down the volume of music when listening to it through earphones. However, 58 percent said they weren’t likely to cut down on the time they spent listening to music with earphones on. “Louder and longer is definitely not the way to use these products,” says Brenda Lonsbury-Martin, PhD, ASHA’s chief staff officer for science and research. Dr Eavey has also advised that any sound over 85 decibels exceeds what hearing experts consider to be a safe level and some MP3 players can reach levels of 120 decibels.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) offers three basic rules for limiting the damage done to your children’s ears by listening to iPods and MP3 players:

1. Make sure that he or she can hear normal conversation voices while listening to music through headphones

2. Limit the amount of time he or she spends listening to any type of music through headphones to one hour a day

3. Set the volume of their music player no higher than 60 percent of the maximum