Teens can, too, hear you

New research from the University of Minnesota suggests we take last month’s highly publicized hearing-loss study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital with a grain of salt. The earlier study indicated that 20 percent of teenagers suffer from hearing loss due to too many overloud sounds. The University of Minnesota study suggests that the methods researchers use to study hearing loss may have produced false positive results in up to 10 percent of teens tested. This would mean that less than seven percent of teens have noise-induced hearing loss. While not an insignificant number, these results lower the likelihood of a possible “hearing-loss epidemic,” as Live Science puts it.

Co-author of the Minnesota study, Bert Schlauch, explains that measurement errors are common in hearing tests, a problem that can lead to exaggerated data. Something as simple as how tightly headphones are placed on or in the ears can lead to misleading results. In his study, he and his colleagues tested and re-tested members of the University of Minnesota’s marching band over the course of a year. They found that their initial results of 15 percent suffering from hearing loss depleted to less than half that measurement after the players were re-tested and their scores averaged. The Minnesota researchers also looked at one of the two data sets the Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers analyzed and found that as much as 10 percent of the 14.9 percent prevalence figure they cited could be false positive responses instead of true hearing loss.

What causes hearing loss and who may be most susceptible? Recent studies have sounded warnings about the use of earbuds, a popular form of headphones for iPods and other MP3 players, commonly used by young and old. I frequently marvel at the loud music emitting from people’s headphones on the subway—and this above the already cacophonous noise of the subway itself.

The silver lining is that this form of hearing loss can be prevented. So, while loud music may be a rite of passage for many teenagers, they may want to listen to their parents the next time they’re asked to turn the music down.

–Ann L. Whitman

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