Hearing : More Teens With Hearing Loss

Jimmy Tomlin

HIGH POINT -- The problem used to be that teenagers wouldn't listen to their parents. Now the problem appears to be they can't hear them.

One in five teens has a hearing loss -- and the problem appears to be getting worse -- according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

While the study itself did not point fingers at a particular culprit for the increase in teenagers' hearing loss, professionals within the audiology community think iPods and MP3 players may be to blame, at least in part.

"That's our main concern, because you're taking that music and putting it into the ear directly," explains audiologist Dr. Amy Kirkland, owner of Doctors Hearing Care in High Point. "Any time the music is loud enough to the point that you can't hear somebody beside you talking to you, you know it's too loud. So if that person has to raise their voice or even shout, that's at a very dangerous level."

According to the JAMA study, which compared teens in 2005 and 2006 to teens tested between 1988 and 1994, researchers found a 30-percent increase in any hearing loss (including mild loss) -- and a 50-percent increase in mild or worse hearing loss -- among teenagers.

Boys were more likely to have hearing loss than girls, and teens in lower socioeconomic groups were more likely than those from wealthier families to suffer from hearing loss, according to the study.

"We've had a lot of parents asking us about it," Kirkland says. "When we go speak at functions and organizations, it's a very hot topic. Once that study came out, a lot of people started asking us about how to adjust iPods for their teens."

That's the good news: Those omnipresent iPods, which are piping music -- often very loud music -- directly into teenagers' ears, can be programmed so they're not so loud.

"There is a way in the software to limit the volume in their iPod, so we try to give that trick out to as many people as we can," Kirkland says. "When you have your iPod attached in iTunes, there's a volume limiter in the settings. It's very user-friendly, so it's very easy to do."

Kirkland says audiologists also can make custom ear molds that have acoustic dampers to help protect their hearing while listening to their iPods.

Otherwise, the teenagers may have to visit an audiologist down the road for a different type of technology -- a hearing aid.

"I think this study is kind of the calm before the storm," Kirkland says.

"I think in the next five to 10 years we're going to see a lot more noise-induced hearing loss, and that damage is permanent most of the time. That's what we try to tell young people about their hearing. We have hearing technology to help them hear better, but there's no medicine and no pill to treat it. Once it's gone, it's gone."

jtomlin@hpe.com -- 888-3579

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