Study finds more teens are losing their hearing

August 17, 2010 7:21:59 PM PDT
A new report from the Journal of the American Medical Association has quantified something that has been obvious to hearing experts for years. American teenagers are going deaf at a higher rate than ever before. The reason looks to be part social and part environmental.

We live in a loud world with noise pretty much everywhere all the time and those of us who don't know that must be deaf or maybe just headed that way.

"It shows up ultimately, but not immediately," says Dr. Robert Sweetow, Ph.D.

Sweetow of UCSF knows better than most people. A new study released Tuesday shows that hearing loss among teenagers, especially, has risen by nearly one-third in recent years and we can blame portable music players.

The sound is so good that you don't limit the sound based on loudness.

"I mean, everyone needs their peaceful time in the world," says Nick Ash.

For 18-year-old Ash, that peace arrives at extreme decibels. In this study, researchers compared 4,700 kids between 1988 and 2006 and found most haring losses occurred in high frequencies, not low ones.

"I'm not going deaf. I'm positive," says Ash.

However beyond volume, the study also found that hearing loss tends to impede social development, as if putting on headphones didn't do that already.

"Society is changing. I think technology has influenced how we interact with each other and we don't interact with each other," says Cathy Perez.

Research has shown that as people of all ages hear less, they also tend to listen less, drawing into themselves more. Perez, who trains young people for job interviews, sees a vicious cycle.

"People are apt to be less social and they haven't developed social skills to interact with people face to face," says Perez.

Which is a lot of blame to place on portable MP3 players alone, but in a world where people fight outside noise by blasting other sounds of their own choosing, it's become loud and clear that we're losing more than peace and quiet.


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