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Hearing Protection: October is National Protect Your Hearing Month

The most important keys to hearing protection and hearing loss prevention are awareness and education. Teaching kids and teens about the causes, signs and life-long effects of hearing loss, and ways to protect their hearing, are crucial steps that need to be taken in schools, communities and homes across the country.

National Protect Your Hearing Month PosterThe website for the American Academy of Audiology (www.audiology.org) provides numerous tools and resources to help you get informed and spread the word in your community, including fact sheets, posters, PowerPoint presentations, press releases, Web tools and more. So get researching, gain as much knowledge as you can, and then get involved in this important issue affecting the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans of all ages.

Take this October, National Protect Your Hearing Month, to make a difference in the lives of those around you. Get out in your community and get talking—and make sure your voice is heard loud and clear! (Just keep it below 85 decibels, okay?)

Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the United States, experienced by approximately 36 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Audiology. Yet it may surprise you to hear that more than half of Americans with hearing loss are under age 65.

In fact, recent data shows that one in five adolescents in the U.S. suffered from hearing loss in 2005-2006, according to a study published in the August 18 issue of JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. These numbers indicate a 30 percent increase in the prevalence of hearing loss in U.S. adolescents from 1988-1994 to 2005-2006.

What's causing such a sharp rise in adolescent hearing loss? Many researchers are pointing to behavioral risk factors, such as listening to MP3 players at dangerously high volumes, as one possible culprit.

Exposure to excessively loud noise is one of the main causes of hearing loss. Of the 36 million Americans with hearing loss, one in three developed hearing loss as a result of exposure to noise. Even more alarmingly, approximately 12 percent of children ages 6 to 19 have noise-induced hearing loss, according to the American Academy of Audiology.

Prolonged exposure to any noise over 85 decibels can result in noise-induced hearing loss. MP3 players reach 100 decibels at full volume. Considering how common MP3 player use is among adolescents and young adults, it's no wonder researchers are questioning whether MP3 use might contribute to increased risk of noise-induced hearing loss in teenagers.

One interesting study, entitled Noise Exposure Estimates of Urban MP3 Player Users, was recently published online in theJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. The study, conducted on a New York City college campus, looked at the use patterns of portable listening devices, or PLDs, in 189 college students. Researchers measured sound levels from the students' PLD headphones, and conducted surveys to determine duration of use and other factors thought to possibly influence PLD use behavior.

The study found that the majority of participants listened to their PLDs at volumes which exceed the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's recommended exposure limit of 85 decibels. The authors say the results indicate that a majority of PLD users in this study are at increased risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss as a result of their PLD listening behavior, if they continue to listen at the current level and duration for the next several years.

The study is especially significant because it is "the largest study of its kind to date, and the first to demonstrate a cohort who seem prone to listening at high levels for long periods of time," according to Dr. Brian J. Fligor, an author of the study.

So what does all this mean for teens?

The most sobering fact to keep in mind is that noise-induced hearing loss is permanent—once the damage is done, it is irreversible. Therefore, having hearing loss at a young age can negatively impact an individual for the rest of his or her life.

Hearing is critical to children's safety and to the development of speech, listening, learning, and social skills. Studies have shown that 37 percent of children with only minimal hearing loss fail at least one grade. Furthermore, hearing loss can negatively impact social and emotional well-being, and generally decrease quality of life, according to the American Academy of Audiology.

On the upside, while noise-induced hearing loss is permanent, it is also preventable.

"Turn it to the Left!" is a campaign of the American Academy of Audiology that urges kids and teens to dial down the volume on MP3 players and stereos to prevent unnecessary hearing loss. The website for the campaign (www.TurnItToTheLeft.com) states that to prevent hearing loss, kids need to:

  • Turn it down
  • Walk away from the noise
  • Use hearing protection such as ear plugs

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