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John W. House, M.D. Headshot

Can Your Teenager Hear Me Now?

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Recent headlines across the country screamed "1 in 5 Teenagers has Hearing Loss."

I am glad this research published in Journal of the American Medical Association has brought national attention to an issue the House Ear Institute has been focused on for years.

Starting in 2006, HEI embarked on a highly successful educational initiative on hearing loss prevention for young audio consumers called "It's How You Listen that Counts®," which used social media avenues like Myspace, Facebook, YouTube and Myyearbook.com to attract over 100,000 "friends." More information on the Institute's program can be found at www.earbud.org.

The teens in the JAMA study had high-frequency and low-frequency hearing loss. The media focused on the high-frequency hearing loss because this type of hearing loss is associated with noise exposure.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) usually occurs with repeated exposure to noise levels above 85 dB. Previously, this type of hearing loss was not something my colleagues at the House Clinic and I would see in a teenager since it occurs over time and can take years of exposure.

For some teens, hearing loss may be happening in just minutes. Some MP3 players have volume levels greater than 110 dB. We know exposure to noise greater than 115 dB for any amount of time can cause serious damage.

What can you do if you know a teenager that may have hearing loss?

If you suspect hearing loss or notice sudden changes in your hearing or have ear pain, see an otolaryngologist (ENT) or otologist. Also, have a hearing test or audiometric evaluation by a licensed audiologist.

Teenagers need to realize hearing loss can affect every aspect of their life from getting good grades in school, to hanging out with their friends, to applying for a job.

Doctors at the House Clinic see thousands of patients each year for noise induced hearing loss. I believe if teenagers today continue to listen at unsafe levels they will be House Clinic patients in their 20's or 30's and possibly need hearing aids. But it doesn't have to be this way.

There is no cure for noise induced hearing loss but it is preventable. We need teenagers to get the message to turn down the volume in their MP3 players and other electronic devices because there are no early warning signs. Noise-induced hearing loss is usually painless, progressive and always permanent but can also be 100 percent preventable.

The bottom line for teens: keep the volume down!

Preventing NIHL is something everyone can do. Here are some tips:
1. Monitor your exposure time to sounds over 85 dB and take periodic 15-minute "quiet" breaks. Although the maximum time to safely be exposed to 85 dB is 8 hours, the maximum time to safely be exposed to 100 dB is only 15 minutes.
2. Avoid hazardous sound environments. If you have to raise your voice to be heard, you are in a potentially hazardous environment for your hearing. This includes loud music performances, operating power tools and driving with the windows down at high speeds.
3. Whenever you can't get away from an extreme sound environment, wear hearing protection, such as foam, silicone or pre-molded earplugs, earmuffs or custom earplugs.
4. Move away from on-stage monitors or amplifiers. Position yourself so you are not directly in front of the speaker while performing or listening.

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