U.S. teens show a 31 percent increase in partial hearing loss since last studied 12 years ago. This was the finding of new research reported in the August 18, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Of the 1,771 teens participating in the study, 1 in 5 now shows partial hearing loss as compared to 1 in 7 at the time of the earlier study.
Boys were more likely to experience hearing loss than girls, according to Josef Shargorodsky, M.D., M.P.H. and his colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They reached their conclusions after sifting through data from two national health surveys, the first conducted from 1988 through 1994, and the second from 2005 through 2006.
One might be tempted to jump to obvious conclusions about teen listening habits and the devices they use. However, teens in the late 80s and early 90s used personal listening devices similar to those used by today’s teens. The data suggests that they reported similar amounts of noise exposure as the teens in the 2005-2006 study. So the natural inclination to blame iPods and the like may not be the answer. In fact, the study did not find a clear cause for the rise in hearing loss, according to study co-author Gary C. Curhan, M.D., Sc.D.
“This is the type of study that generates important questions,” he said. “It underscores the need for further investigation that will help us better understand this increase in hearing loss and hopefully encourage efforts towards hearing preservation.”
Tens of millions of people in the United States are affected by hearing loss. Adolescent hearing loss is not well understood but some risk factors, like sound exposure from listening to loud music, may be of particular importance to both adolescents and parents.
Analysis of the data from the study indicated the prevalence of hearing loss among 12 to 19 year olds was 14.9 percent in 1988-1994 and 19.5 percent in 2005-2006, representing a 31 percent increase in hearing loss over this time period. The majority of the hearing loss was slight. The prevalence of unilateral hearing loss was 11.1 percent in 1988-1994 and 14.0 percent in 2005-2006. Bilateral hearing loss was 3.8 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively.
Females were significantly less likely than males to demonstrate any hearing loss in 2005-¬2006. Histories of 3 or more ear infections, firearms use, and loud noise exposure for 5 or more hours in a week were not significantly associated with any hearing loss in 2005-2006. Individuals from families below the federal poverty threshold had significantly higher odds of hearing loss than those above the threshold.
“Further studies are needed to determine reasons for this increase and to identify potential modifiable risk factors to prevent the development of hearing loss,” the authors concluded.
Citation: Josef Shargorodsky, Sharon G. Curhan, Gary C. Curhan, Roland Eavey, ‘Change in Prevalence of Hearing Loss in US Adolescents’, JAMA. 2010;304(7):772-778. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.11