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Oregon Family Magazine

Can You Hear Me Now? Hearing Loss in Teens and Tweens

03/01/2011 09:46 ● By Anonymous
If you’re the parent of a teen or tween, chances are you’ve wondered, half-jokingly, if your child hears anything you say. The reality is that there are over 6.5 million American children ages 12 to 19 living with some form of hearing loss — and much of it is preventable.

Noise induced hearing loss Every day, we experience sound in our environment — from ¬television and radio, to household appliances and dreaded rush-hour traffic. Normally, we hear these sounds at safe levels that do not affect our hearing. However, when we are exposed to harmful noise, sounds that are too loud or loud sounds that last a long time, sensitive structures in our inner ear can be damaged, resulting in noise induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Noise induced hearing loss can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense “impulse” sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as a too-loud MP3 player. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), long-term exposure to 80 to 85 decibels, or any more than 15 minutes exposure to 100 decibels, can lead to hearing loss. Music players like iPods can top 100 decibels when turned all the way up.  In fact, according to a survey conducted by Hear the World, a global initiative by leading hearing system manufacturer Phonak, exposure to high noise levels was found to not only result in gradual hearing loss, but also stress, aggression or insomnia in 73 percent of those surveyed.

MP3 players and your teen A study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 1 in 5 U.S. teens suffer from some form of hearing loss. Among other culprits named, from nutrition to environmental toxins, the use of the “earbud” style of headphones while listening to high decibel music was found to be one reason for the increase.

“It is no surprise that teens and young adults today are listening to music longer and potentially louder than years past,” said Dr. Craig Kasper, Chief Audiology Officer of Audio Help Hearing Centers and Hear the World spokesperson. “Ongoing exposure to loud sounds daily, through earphones for example, can have a direct impact on your hearing early in life and not just as you age.”

How loud is too loud? If an earbud headphone sounds loud to people nearby, it’s too loud. If you suspect your child might have hearing loss, contact your local audiologist for a complete hearing screening. For more information on hearing loss and how loud is too loud, as well as an online hearing test, visit

Reducing the risk The good news is that noise induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable. “The impact of noise on hearing is often underestimated because the damage may take place gradually. As a result, many people do little to prevent the process of hearing loss that takes place throughout their lives due to the noise pollution around them,” said Dr. Kasper. To protect hearing, Dr. Kasper recommends these tips for teens and tweens:

  1. Be mindful of your hearing. Think about the level of noise you’re exposed to as well as the duration of time you’re in that noise.
  2. When attending concerts or loud events, wear hearing protection. Most of us would never think to sunbathe without some form of SPF protection. Using either over-the-counter earplugs or custom-molded hearing protection is like SPF for your ears.
  3. When listening to your iPod or other MP3 player, invest in a sound-isolating earphone, such as the Audéo PFE by Phonak (see sidebar). This will reduce the amount of environmental sounds and allow you to turn the volume down.
Sound waves travel through the ear canal to the inner ear, where tiny hair cells convert the sound into nerve impulses that travel to hearing centers in the brain. Excessive noise can damage those cells and cause permanent hearing loss.

Top five misconceptions about hearing loss

  1. Hearing loss is only for the elderly: Only 35 percent of people with hearing loss are older than age 64. There are over 6.5 million American children ages 12 to 19 living with some form of hearing loss.
  2. If my child or I had hearing loss, my family doctor would have told me: Only 14 percent of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss during a physical.
  3. Your hearing loss cannot be helped: With modern advances in technology, nearly 95 percent of people with a sensorineural hearing loss — a type of hearing loss in which the root cause lies in the inner ear — can be helped with hearing aids.
  4. Hearing aids are large, clunky and obvious: Many modern hearing aids are nearly invisible to the naked eye and smaller than a quarter.
  5. Hearing loss isn’t serious enough to treat: Hearing loss can create social and emotional barriers for the individuals living with it, or the families of those it affects. Research shows that when left untreated, hearing loss can lead to reduced earning power, disruptions in family life and can cause a wide range of other psychological problems.
Signs of hearing loss in your teen
  • Loss of hearing sensitivity, first to high-pitched (high-frequency) sounds, then eventually to lower pitches.
  • Difficulty hearing conversations, especially in a group setting or in a noisy environment.
  • Temporary or permanent ringing, buzzing or fluttering in one or both ears.
  • Often asks people to repeat themselves.
  • Needs to set the TV or radio volume louder than other people.
  • A sense of fullness in the ears.
  • Voices and other noises sound muffled and/or distorted.