Originally Published: December 11, 2010 9:59 p.m.
A recent study on hearing loss and teens by Harvard Medical School-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston revealed a sobering statistic. The study found that the number of U.S. teenagers with hearing loss increased about 30 percent from 1988 to 2006. That means one in five of today's teens already has lost some hearing.
While there is no hard evidence to prove it, many experts believe that this hearing loss is related to the increased use of portable MP3 players. Hours spent listening to music set at a high volume can damage hearing. One study of about 200 New York college students found that more than half listened to music at a volume of 85 decibels or louder. This volume level, which would exceed federal workplace exposure limits, is about as loud as a hair dryer or vacuum cleaner.
Hearing loss occurs when microscopic hair cells in the inner ear are turned into scar tissue. The symptoms of hearing loss include ringing in the ears or a feeling like your ears are plugged with cotton. People with mild hearing loss can usually hear vowel sounds clearly, but they may not be able to hear some consonant sounds such as t, k and s.
While most hearing loss measured in the study was slight and limited to one ear, the damage can progress over time. Hearing loss from noise exposure can take years or even decades to develop, so today's teens may end up needing hearing aids as early as their 50s or 60s.
Given this trend toward early hearing loss, it's a good idea for parents to have regular hearing screenings for their teens. An initial screening will provide a baseline hearing level against which future screenings can be measured. A physician also can evaluate the teen to make sure there are no underlying medical causes for the hearing loss.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 47 percent of teens say they are not concerned about hearing loss from the use of audio technology, so it's clear that a great deal more education is needed. Teens can help protect their hearing by monitoring the volume level of their digital music players. They should understand that if other people can hear music coming from their ear buds, it's too loud and they may be putting their hearing at risk.
That's advice teens should listen to.