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Drumming up Interest in Hearing Loss

Teens Need More Education About Hearing Health, Study Finds
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WebMD Health News

April 4, 2005 - Many teenagers and young adults like their music loud. Really loud. But pumping up the volume now could cause them to tune out sounds down the road.

A study in the journal Pediatrics has found that a majority of young adults suffer hearing problems after just a few hours of exposure to loud music at concerts, clubs, and personal audio systems.

Noise-induced hearing loss is a significant public health threat. Efforts to reduce the problem have been primarily aimed at adults' exposure to occupational noise. More and more studies show an an increasing trend of noise-induced hearing loss among children and adolescents linked to recreational and leisure activities. While short periods of exposure to very loud music can't cause permanent hearing loss, repeated exposure can.

For the study, researchers in Massachusetts developed a 28-question survey on issues facing adolescents and young adults. Sixteen questions were related to hearing. The web-based questionnaire was randomly administered to people who visited the MTV web site. The study involved 3,310 men and 6,148 women with an average age of 19.

Evaluation of the surveys revealed that teens did not consider hearing loss a big problem compared with other health issues such as sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse, or depression. Hearing loss was "a very big problem" for only 8% of the respondents. However, more than half of them had suffered hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) after a rock concert.

"Unlike such issues as alcohol and drug use, which may have immediate life-threatening consequences, hearing loss does not pose a concern for youths as the detrimental effects may not manifest for years," the study authors write.

Those more likely to consider hearing loss "a very big problem" or "somewhat a big problem" had prior education on hearing loss.

Fortunately, many of the teens surveyed said they could be motivated to wear ear plugs if they were made more aware of the risk of permanent hearing loss or were advised by a medical professional. Only a handful (14%) of those surveyed used ear protection in the past while listening to loud music. Yet two out of five teens had reported that suggestions to wear earplugs were made in the past.

The researchers emphasize that prompting teenagers to protect their hearing requires a substantial public effort at many levels of society, particularly in schools and doctors' offices.

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