Medical minute: It’s too loud. You’re not too old.
Lisa Davidson, Reed Norwood
Thursday, Jul 5, 2012
Ironically, we often use a product, like an MP3 player, Walkman or Discman to insulate us from the external noises of the world, by drowning them out with even louder sounds channeled directly into our ears. It’s really no wonder that hearing loss is so widespread — it affects tens of millions of people in the U.S. alone.
And though hearing loss is largely considered an affliction that exclusively affects older generations, hearing loss among U.S. adolescents is sharply on the rise. According to the latest research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, “the prevalence of hearing loss among U.S. adolescents between 1988 and 1994, compared with their reported hearing loss between 2005 and 2006, uncovered a 31 percent increase in hearing loss among those between 12 and 19 years old.”
Hearing loss can affect development
Researchers say this means one in five adolescents now suffer some sort of hearing impairment. The reported hearing loss in the study is classified as slight to mild, but can nonetheless negatively affect a child’s social-emotional development, impair their speech and language development, as well as impede their academic performance.
Though many would be quick to cite the earbuds themselves as the primary offender in causing hearing loss among adolescents, it is more likely prolonged exposure to high levels of noise in addition to the earbuds that causes the damage.
This extended exposure to loud noise causes hearing loss by destroying the cilia (small hairs) in the inner ear. Cilia respond to different frequencies, sending different sounds to the brain for interpretation. When the cilia are destroyed, the brain is unable to interpret the information it has received, resulting in an individual’s inability to understand speech.
Additionally, the study found that “adolescents and young adults typically underestimate symptoms of loud sound, tinnitus and temporary hearing impairment during music exposure and underreport concern for these conditions.”
Prevent hearing loss now
So, what’s the solution? Many audiologists would recommend a worthwhile investment in your child’s or grandchild’s hearing — and ultimately their social and academic future — by swapping out their MP3 player’s stock earbuds for a set of custom-molded earbuds, specially designed by a hearing care professional whose goal is to provide the listener with optimum sound in the safest way possible. Custom earmolds’ individually-created tips are made specifically for the wearer by lab experts, while the acoustic design of custom MP3 earmolds optimize the sound quality of standard in-ear headphones that come with MP3 players (and other similar audio equipment). Custom earmolds allow a perfect fit—even for exercise— guaranteeing an excellent acoustic seal, while, more importantly, making lower volumes more satisfying to the listener to protect their hearing.
Though the nature of popular music will always change as time goes on, an adolescent’s relationship with it most certainly will not. Why not give them the opportunity to enjoy it for a lifetime, by giving them the education and tools they deserve to maintain their optimum hearing health? After all, music — much like our hearing and communication — is a gift that we can share across generations.
Limit the volume. Preserve their hearing
Apple has created a function that limits the volume on your child’s iPod or iPod Shuffle. Once the volume is locked, a combination is required to change the setting. Go to http://support.apple.com for details.
Fast facts about hearing loss in adolescents
5.2 million adolescents have hearing loss directly related to noise exposure.
6.5 million teenagers in America struggle to hear whispered conversations or leaves rustling in the wind.
20 percent of adolescents now suffer some sort of hearing impairment.
30 million Americans are exposed to hazardous sound levels every day.
50 percent or more of high school students report having at least one symptom of hearing loss.
Lisa Davidson and Reed Norwood are doctors of audiology and co-owners of McMinnville Hearing Center, located at 312 N. Chancery St., McMinnville, and Cookeville Audiology & Hearing Aids, located at 728 S. Jefferson Ave., Suite 8, Cookeville. They can be reached at (931) 473-3833 or (931) 854-9499.