Hearing Damage in Youth is Common and Preventable

According to the American Osteopathic Association, hearing loss in teens has risen by 30 percent since the 1990s, with 1 in 5 teens having some form of hearing loss. It’s important to know that the number one cause of hearing loss is noise, not age. Unfortunately, hearing loss due to excessive sound exposure is permanent, and there is no cure for it. As we continue to age and get exposed to more loud sounds over our lifetimes, hearing loss becomes cumulative. If our teens have some loss now, they will face severe loss in their later years. As a result, parents should educate teens about hearing loss and how to protect their hearing.

Educating Youth About Hearing Loss

The number one thing that parents can do to protect their children’s ears is educate them about hearing loss. Parents should explain hearing loss to teens as early as possible with the following facts:

  • Damage to your ears can cause hearing loss and/or tinnitus. Hearing loss makes it hard to hear or understand sounds. Tinnitus is a constant ringing sound in your ears. Both of these conditions can be very frustrating and significantly impact your ability to communicate, leading to social isolation and reduced job opportunities. Significant hearing loss can also impact your balance because the organ of balance (the vestibular system) is found inside the inner ear.
  • Hearing loss is most often caused by excessive sounds. Loud noise damages the tiny hair cells of the inner ear which take sound waves and change them to electrical signals that are sent to the brain. When the hair cells are damaged, they can’t send sound signals as well as they did before.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent, and there is no cure. It will continue to get worse as you are exposed to loud noise during the course of your life. Unfortunately, because hearing loss is gradual, those experiencing it often don’t notice the change until the hearing loss is significant. It’s better to make habit changes right away to prevent hearing loss.
  • Hearing damage can be caused by an intense sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time. Examples include:
    • listening to loud music or videos through headphones,
    • hunting, target shooting or other recreational firearm activity
    • concerts,
    • power tools, such as lawnmowers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, or woodworking tools,
    • fireworks show,
    • working at a construction site or airport,
    • watching the TV or movies at a high volume,
    • playing in a band, and
    • motorcycles, snowmobiles, or other loud vehicles.
  • As a general rule of thumb, you are causing permanent damage to your hearing if the noise around you is so loud that you must shout to be heard or you can’t hear the people around you, or if you are experiencing ringing in your ears after listening to music or attending an event.

Teach Teens to Protect their Hearing

While you can’t control what your teen does, you can arm them with helpful information to reduce their risk of hearing loss. Let them know that they can make habit adjustments that will significantly decrease their chances of damaging their ears. Teach them the 3 ways to prevent hearing loss when experiencing loud noise: turn the volume down, move away, or use hearing protection. Make sure that you role model these strategies.

To reduce the risk of hearing loss, share these tips with your teen to keep them safe:

  • Move away from loud sounds or speakers whenever possible.
  • When at an event, choose seats further away from the stage or speakers.
  • Turn down the volume when listening to music or watching TV.
  • When wearing headphones or earbuds, keep the volume low, preferably never louder than 50% of the volume. You should be able to hear conversations around you. Take breaks after listening for more than 1 hour at a time.
  • Wear quality ear plugs or ear muffs anytime you are around loud noises, such as:
    • Attending movies, auto races, sporting events, fireworks shows, loud festivals, and music concerts.
    • Working with power tools, such as lawn mowers, vacuums, tractors, or chainsaws.
    • Attending activities near a motorcycle, dirt bike, snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, airplane, or other loud vehicles.
    • Performing in a band.
    • Participating in or attending shooting sports.

Final thoughts…

If you notice your teen listens to the TV or radio at a higher volume or they have difficulty understanding your speech in a crowded or noisy environment, consider getting their hearing tested.

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