Hearing damage seen in teens, New research
Hearing damage seen in teens, New research

Hearing damage seen in teens, New study

New study into the ringing-ear condition known as tinnitus points to an alarming level of early hearing damage in young people who are exposed to loud music, prompting a warning from a leading Canadian researcher in the field.

“It’s a growing problem and it’s going to get worse,” said Larry Roberts of McMaster University’s department of psychology, neuroscience, and behavior. “My personal view is that there is a major public health challenge coming down the road in terms of difficulties with hearing.”

Roberts worked with Brazilian researcher Tanit Ganz Sanchez and her colleagues at the University of São Paulo School of Medicine. The data, they believe, helps give a more complete picture of what’s happening to young people who may not be aware that they are hurting themselves when they listen to loud music.

Researchers interviewed and performed detailed hearing tests on a group of 170 students between 11 and 17 years old, discovering that almost all of them engage in “risky listening habits” — at parties, clubs, and on personal listening devices — and that more than a quarter of them are already experiencing chronic, persistent tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ears that more typically affects people over 50.

Further testing showed that even though they could still hear as well as their peers, those experiencing tinnitus were more likely to have a significantly reduced tolerance for loud noise. That’s considered a sign of hidden permanent damage to the nerves that are used to process sound — damage that can foretell serious hearing impairment later in life.

“The levels of sound exposure that are quite commonplace in our environment, particularly among youth, appear to be sufficient to produce hidden cochlear injuries,” said Roberts. “The message is, ‘Protect your ears.'”

Testing showed that 28 percent of study participants had already developed persistent tinnitus.

The participants with persistent tinnitus also showed heightened sensitivity to loud sounds, indicating that the neurons that transmit sounds to the brain may have been damaged, said Roberts. While some other forms of hearing loss can be repaired, such nerve damage cannot be undone. The only solution, he says, is prevention.

The study results were published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.


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