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School hearing tests missing a note

Contributed by , staff writer

Traditional school hearing tests may not be effective in detecting hearing loss associated with exposure to loud noise, according to a study by the Penn State College of Medicine. Researchers at the college compared results from the Pennsylvania statewide hearing test with results from a special hearing screening designed to detect noise-related high frequency hearing loss and found the school's hearing screening failed to detect noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Penn State College of Medicine researchers, led by Deepa Sekhar, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, administered both the statewide school screening and the high frequency screening to 282 11th grade students at Hershey High School. Of them, five failed the state test and 85 failed the noise-related test. Nine of the 48 students who returned for testing by an audiologist were diagnosed with hearing loss, leading the researchers to conclude school-based protocols may need to be modified in order to best screen adolescents. Their findings were published in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Medical Screenings.

hearing test for kids
A new study is examining the results of hearing 
screenings for children.

Many schools across the country use the same hearing screening as the Pennsylvania school system. These screenings focus on identifying hearing loss associated with low frequencies because many school age children develop low-frequency hearing loss as a result of fluid in the ear from ear infections or a bad cold. Ear infections are the most common reason parents bring their children to the doctor.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), three out of four children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday. Typically, hearing returns to normal once the infection clears; however, results from a school hearing screenings can alert school personnel to the problem so parents can have it checked out. 

Adolescent hearing loss is different.

Adolescents; however, are more likely to have high frequency hearing loss which is usually caused by exposure to loud noise. In 2008, health professionals estimated that five million young people between the ages of six and 19 had noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). In response, the American Academy of Audiology launched the Turn it to the Left campaign. The program was developed to encourage kids to turn down the volume on their personal electronic devices (PED). Rapper Ben Jackson of Rhyme, Rhyme, Results wrote a song by the same name for the campaign and the Academy provided educational resources for educators to use in the classroom.

Loud sound generated from PEDs can cause NIHL, which is permanent. Although hearing health professionals have set safe noise levels at 85 decibels (dB), the maximum sound from an iPod Shuffle is 115 dB. A study by the Australian government revealed that 25% of adolescents adjust the volume on their PEDs loud enough to cause hearing damage. Noise at rock concerts can range anywhere from 90 to more than 120 dB.

This is concerning because hearing plays an important part in the development of language, communication and socialization skills -- especially in young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), even children with mild to moderate hearing loss do not perform as well in school as children with normal hearing.

Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable.

Although NIHL isn't curable, it is preventable. Hearing health professionals recommend parents protect their family's hearing health from NIHL by:

  • Knowing the decibel levels of the sounds around you and avoiding, or limiting exposure to, those sounds which are excessively loud. Normal conversation typically registers at 60 dB and hair dryers can operate at 90dB. Emergency vehicle sirens blare at 115dB, a balloon popping registers 125dB and firecrackers explode at 145dB.
  • Wearing hearing protection like ear plugs or noise cancelling head phones when it isn't possible to avoid noisy environments. Foam ear plugs are sold at most drug stores and head phones can be purchased at sporting goods stores.
  • Turning down the volume on personal electronic devices, like iPods, smart phones or gaming devices. The House Research Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with hearing loss, recommends listening to PEDs at no more than 60 percent of their maximum volume potential.
  • Scheduling an annual hearing tests that includes screening for high frequency hearing loss for every member of the family. 

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