CRF Blog

Teen Hearing Loss

by Damon Huss

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported on recent findings about teen hearing loss in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The Times article includes this startling set of facts:

The proportion of teens in the United States with slight hearing loss has increased 30% in the last 15 years, and the number with mild or worse hearing loss has increased 77%, researchers said Tuesday.

One in every five teens now has at least a slight hearing loss, which can affect learning, speech perception, social skills development and self-image; one in every 20 has a more severe loss.

The culprit? Some research suggests genetic factors. According to the article, however, the “prime suspect” is the earbud-type headphones used for iPods and other portable mp3 players (which replaced the Walkman of the 1980s and ’90s as the handheld stereo of choice). Teens and others who use them tend to turn the volume up too high.

The writing was on the wall many years ago, as this 2005 article at ScienceDaily shows. Back then, Dean Garstecki, an audiologist at Northwestern University, advised listeners not to use earbuds, but rather larger headphones that cover the whole ear opening. “Unlike earbuds,” Garstecki said, “noise-canceling headphones quiet or eliminate background noise. That means listeners don’t feel the need to crank up the volume so high as to damage their hearing.”