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Rising Risks: Teen Hearing Loss

August 22, 2017

Rising Risks Teen Hearing LossHearing loss (unless it occurs at birth) is one of those health concerns that people tend to associate most with the elderly – and it’s been the punch line for countless “over the hill” jokes. Unfortunately, this can lead young people to take their hearing for granted, even though the reality is that this problem is actually affecting today’s teenagers at an alarming rate.  The good news is that as a parent, there are plenty of steps you can take to protect your kids’ hearing, and it starts by understanding more about the issue.

The Problem of Teen Hearing Loss

According to a study conducted by a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, nearly 1 in 5 teenagers are showing signs of at least mild hearing loss. For a health issue that most people think they won’t need to worry about until their hair is gray, that’s a shocking number. Here’s another statistic to consider: that same study, which analyzed hearing loss among teens in 2005-2006, found that this number was over 30% higher than it had been in the late 80s and early 90s. Another study was conducted in 2010 by two physicians at the University of California in San Francisco actually found that teen hearing loss had stopped rising. While this sounds like good news, this stability occurred when new vaccines were significantly reducing the number of pediatric ear infections (one of the most common causes of acquired hearing loss in kids and teens). That should have caused a significant decline in adolescent hearing loss, but the numbers have stayed rather stable, which means that something else is hurting our teens’ hearing.

The Cause of Hearing Loss in Teens

Most teenagers who have developed hearing issues are suffering from high-frequency hearing loss (meaning they have difficulty hearing high-frequency noises), and this is usually due to excessive noise exposure. While loud music has always been prevalent among our country’s youth, the past few decades have seen a whole new era of music: personal listening devices and headphones. Today’s devices have much longer battery life and more storage capacity than earlier ones, which means kids and teens are exposed to loud music for a longer period of time. Just like sun damage to a child’s skin, exposure to loud music simply accumulates over time, often damaging a specific part of the cochlea and causing permanent hearing impairment.

How to Prevent Hearing Loss in Teens and Kids

No matter how old or young your kids may be, you can help them protect their hearing for the future with a few tips and guidelines:

  • Keep up with regular auditory screenings. At Children’s Wellness Center, hearing tests are part of every annual well child visit for ages 4-11, and after age 11, we can perform a hearing test if you are concerned that your child may have difficulty hearing.
  • Only allow your kids to listen to music for an hour at a time, and make sure they keep the volume at 60% or lower. Some devices will actually allow you to manually set a volume limit, so investigate whether this is possible with your child’s device.
  • Teach your kids and teens that if their ears feel “full” or if their hearing is muzzled after listening to music, or if they have ringing in their ears, it means that the music was too loud. If this occurs, they should keep the volume lower next time.
  • Have you child use headphones rather than earbuds, because these don’t force the sound into your teen’s ear in such a direct way.
  • Any time your kids are in a loud environment (like a concert, an area with loud equipment or machinery, etc.), make sure they wear earplugs.
  • Teach your children that if they’re listening to headphones, the volume is too loud if:
    • They can’t hear conversations around them at a normal volume.
    • They need to raise their voice to hear themselves speak.
    • They have muffled hearing, poor hearing, ringing, or pain in their ears after they turn off the music.

Hearing loss might be joked about as a problem for grandparents, but in today’s world, it’s something that even kids and teenagers need to know about. By teaching your kids how to protect their ears and how to recognize the signs of hearing damage, you can help them keep their hearing at its best for many decades to come. If you have concerns about your child’s hearing, schedule an appointment at Children’s Wellness Center. Plus, for more health tips for kids, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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