Are You Deaf? For Many Teenagers the Answer is 'Yes'

Filed under: Medical Conditions, In The News, Health & Safety: Teens, Research Reveals: Teens


loss of hearing

Matthew Brady, 17, who has some mild hearing loss, used to listen to his iPod while running on a treadmill with the volume turned up. Credit: Steven Senne, AP

Remember when you shouted to your teenager that he'd better turn his music down or he'd go deaf? Turns out, you were right.

Hearing loss among adolescents in the United States is up at a rate of nearly a third, and about one in five kids ages 12 to 19 are suffering from it -- roughly 6.5 million, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And boys' hearing is deteriorating at a higher rate than that of girls, the article says.

The kind of hearing loss the kids are suffering could affect their ability to hear in a classroom setting, Josef Shargorodsky, a resident at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and the paper's lead author, tells ParentDish.

"Most of the kids experienced slight hearing loss, and chances are they won't realize it," he says. "(But) with low intensity -- even slight -- hearing loss, they might not be able to hear what they need to hear at school."

Shargorodsky and colleagues in Boston examined data from two national surveys of teens ranging from 12 to 19 years old. The first database contained information gathered from nearly 3,000 teens between 1988 and 1994, and the second had information on nearly 2,000 teens gathered between 2005 and 2006.

The researchers categorized loss of hearing as either unilateral (in one ear) or bilateral (in two ears), as high or low frequency and as slight, mild or great, based on the hearing in the worse ear. They found that the prevalence of hearing loss had increased 31 percent from the time of the first survey to the time of the second.

The majority of the hearing loss was slight and most of it was in a single ear, but the prevalence of those who had suffered mild or worse hearing loss had jumped a staggering 77 percent. Most of the loss was in the ability to hear high frequencies, which includes many women's voices.

"There seemed to be a bigger escalation at the higher intensity of hearing loss," Shargorodsky tells ParentDish.

The researchers didn't examine the causes of the hearing loss, but previous studies have shown that listening to portable music devices, such as iPods, can damage hearing, the article says.

For parents, "the most important thing is to understand just how common this is," Shargorodsky says. "One in five adolescents has hearing loss of some kind, so in an average American classroom there will be several kids with hearing loss."

The message for parents? Be vigilant.

"You may notice the TV getting louder, you may notice school performance going down, you may notice you have to call your child more times than you previously did," Shargorodsky tells ParentDish. "In those cases it's certainly a good idea to get (your child's) hearing checked."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.