How to protect teens from hearing loss

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by Amanda Burden / KGW

NWCN.com

Posted on September 22, 2010 at 11:24 AM

PORTLAND -- Teenagers don't hear as well as they used to, according to a national study, but there are things that can be done to try and protect them from further hearing loss.

A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested 1 in 5 adolescents have some hearing loss.  That's up 30% since the last survey 15 years ago.  The study didn't give a reason.  But many doctors said they believe noise exposure was to blame.

"About 5.2 million kids in the United States, 12% have hearing loss that looks like it could be attributed completely to noise," said Dr. William Martin, the Director of the Dangerous Decibel Program at OHSU.

Martin said most teenagers don't notice hearing loss right away.  But cumulative damage can cause big problems later in life.

"If we have young people exposing themselves to sounds of any kind, including continuous music at loud levels, by the time they're 30 they'll have the ears of a 60 year old," Martin said.

Martin said portable music players are perfectly safe.  But when played at a high volume for a long period of time, they can damage tiny hair bundles deep within our ears.  Once the hairs are damaged, some permanent hearing loss typically follows.  But bottom line, teenagers love loud music, whether on the radio, at a rock concert on in an iPod.

"Louder is better," said Parker Vaughn, a freshman at Lincoln High School.

KGW Newschannel 8 spoke to several teenagers who noticed slight hearing loss, as a result to constant noise exposure.

"Like right now, my ears sound all foggy and I've noticed more wax in my ears," said Emzy Mulkey, a senior at Lincoln High School.

The solution?  Dr. Martin said it's OK to crank up your favorite song.  But he said when it's done, bring the volume back down.

"So the louder it is, the much shorter time you have to listen to it safely," Martin said.

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