When we see a car drive up next with the bass and volume turned up so much that the cars around us are bouncing, we smirk, because we know that those folks are going to have hearing loss later in life. But while we consider hearing loss among adults who ought to know better something we can smirk at, a study released on Tuesday is just plain alarming: 30 percent more of today’s teens have some sort of hearing loss, as opposed to their peers in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
According to the study, which done by which was done by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly 1 in 5 of U.S. teenagers has some level of hearing loss. The study noted that one in 20 of those between the age of 12 and 19 has enough hearing damage that it may impact their ability to listen and to learn.
The study looked at nearly 5,000 adolescents ages 12 to 19 who had their hearing screened as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (large federal health databases). The teens were divided into two different groups, one from 1988 to 1994, and the second from 2005 to 2006. The researchers then compared the results between the timeframes.
Of those affected, most experienced a “slight” hearing loss, which researchers said would be identified by a lack of an ability to hear certain consonants or very soft sounds. However, those 1 in 20 mentioned above who suffered mild hearing loss would be affected in such a way as to miss complete words when someone is speaking at a normal volume.
While not able to directly attribute the hearing loss to loud iPods and other MP3 players, they’ve been blamed before. Some of that blame has targeted the earbud-style headphones shipped with most of these devices, as those headphones do not shut out much background noise, meaning that listeners often turn them up louder than they might otherwise.
Additionally, the hearing loss noted in the study, high-frequency hearing loss, has often been attributed to loud noise. While some music players have sound limits in place, others do not, and their volumes can exceed 110 decibels. As a comparison, OSHA notes that exposure to noise levels of 110 decibels for more than 30 minutes requires ear protection in workplaces.
Tommie L. Robinson, president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association made a good case for caution:
“Once you lose your hearing, you cannot get it back. It’s gone for good.”