Hearing loss among kids and teens
We all know that hearing loss doesn't discriminate based on age. Hearing loss due to illnesses, genetics, medications or injury crosses generational lines and can affect everyone from the very young to the very old. But when it comes to hearing loss, children and teenagers face particular challenges that are unique to them.
Hearing loss has a tendency to paint life with a broad brush, no matter what age you are. But for young people, and teenagers in particular, hearing loss affects everything from education to social life to confidence level and vocational choices.
Hearing loss and youth
Lifestyle is certainly a factor in the increasing rates of hearing loss among young people. A daily barrage of loud video games, mp3 players cranked to full volume, concerts, sporting events, movie theaters and surround-sound entertainment systems delivers an unprecedented assault on the hearing of our children and teens, the likes of which has not been previously seen.
With increasing rates of hearing loss comes academic challenges, a growing problem for young people. Kids and teens with hearing loss are at risk academically if their hearing loss is left untreated. Even those kids who have congenital hearing loss and have received treatment for their hearing loss in the form of hearing aids or cochlear implants can find themselves having difficulty in school; they have to adjust to new teachers every year who may or may not have experience working with students who are hearing impaired or have hearing loss, or might miss hearing important information about assignments that can adversely affect their grades.
For older teens, job and career choices can be heavily influenced by hearing loss. Studies have shown young people with hearing loss are often more limited in their vocational choices due to perceived barriers. Whether those barriers actually exist or not, they can influence young people with hearing loss to become anxious and lose confidence, and thus compromise their career goals.
Often, kids and teenagers who are hearing impaired or have hearing loss have to work harder at everyday things that kids with typical hearing take for granted. In sports, for example, they may experience more stress and frustration due to not being able to hear coaches' instructions. Interactions with peers might be more difficult due to missed jokes or only hearing part of a conversation. Overall, they may find themselves feeling left out and awkward, wondering where they fit in. It is a difficult position for anyone to be in, especially a young person.
What causes hearing loss in teens?
Across age groups, hearing loss can result from a variety of causes. Though illnesses, genetics, injuries to the head or ear, birth complications or exposure to certain medications can all be factors, among older people hearing loss is most often attributed to a natural aging of the auditory nerve, also known as age-related hearing loss. In teens, however the most common cause of hearing loss is excessive noise exposure, which is completely preventable.
According to the Journal of Pediatrics, 12.5 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 have hearing loss as a result of listening to loud music, particularly through earbuds at unsafe volumes. One reason hearing loss among young people is on the rise is that the new technology allows for thousands of songs to be stored, as opposed to the old technology (such as the Sony Walkman, for example) which only played one cassette or CD at a time. More song storage leads to longer listening times. And unlike the bulky headphones of times past, earbuds deliver sound directly into the ear canal without any sound buffering in between. Adding to this is that most of the earbuds come bundled with iPods and other mp3 players are low to mediocre quality, so they are unable to transit the bass as effectively. As anyone who listens to music knows, if you can't hear the bass, the temptation is to turn the music up.
Fortunately there are ways to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in tweens and teens. Some of these include:
- Use high-quality earbuds that more effectively transmit the bass, or use headphones instead.
- Follow the 60/60 rule: No more than 60 minutes of listening at a time, and no higher than 60 percent of maximum volume. If you go under "settings," you can actually set your iPod for maximum volume setting of 60 percent, so you can't accidentally turn your music up too loud.
- Remember, if others can hear the music you are listening to through your earbuds, it is too loud.
- Be sure and take breaks from listening to music, and try not to fall asleep while listening to music through earbuds.
- Always wear earplugs at concerts and loud sporting events.
- If you suspect you might have hearing loss, there are some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you might need to seek treatment:
1. Are you having trouble hearing other people's voices clearly?
2. Do you often have to ask people to repeat themselves?
3. Does your family often have to ask you to turn the volume down on the TV?
4. Do friends and family say that you don't seem to hear very well?
5. Do you often find yourself missing jokes or parts of conversations?
If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, you might want to seek the help of a hearing healthcare professional. A simple hearing test isn't painful, and can determine if you have hearing loss, to what degree and whether treatment or intervention is necessary. Remember, protecting your hearing when you are young can reduce the likelihood of hearing loss down the road.