1-in-5 U.S. Teens Has Hearing Loss, New Study Says

August 17, 2011

A stunning number of teens have lost a little bit of their hearing — nearly one in five — and the problem has increased substantially in recent years, a new national study has found.

Some experts are urging teenagers to turn down the volume on their digital music players, suggesting loud music through earbuds may be to blame — although hard evidence is lacking. They warn that slight hearing loss can cause problems in school and set the stage for hearing aids in later life.

"Our hope is we can encourage people to be careful," said the study's senior author Dr. Gary Curhan of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The researchers analyzed data on 12- to 19-year-olds from a nationwide health survey. They compared hearing loss in nearly 3,000 kids tested from 1988-94 to nearly 1,800 kids tested over 2005-06.

The prevalence of hearing loss increased from about 15 percent to 19.5 percent.

Q&A: How loud is too loud?

Most of the hearing loss was "slight," defined as inability to hear at 16 to 24 decibels — or sounds such as a whisper or rustling leaves. A teenager with slight hearing loss might not be able to hear water dripping or his mother whispering "good night."

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