Tag Archive: young people

Hearing loss in young people changes brain function

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Since I became a noise activist and started learning about the dangers of noise, I have been predicting an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in young people due to their ubiquitous use of personal music players with associated headphones or earbuds, often turned up loud enough to annoy me when they walk past. This article reports that young adults with subtle hearing loss also have brain function changes detected on functional MRI scans.

We don’t just hear sound with our ears. We have to process the information from the ear in the brain. According to this study, hearing loss makes the brain work harder.

There is a well-known association between hearing loss and dementia, with worse hearing being correlated with a greater risk of developing dementia. And it now looks like this problem starts in early adulthood, not late in life.

So unfortunately, I’m going to predict that there will not only be an epidemic of NIHL when today’s young people reach midlife–in their 40s and 50s, not in their 60s, 70s, and 80s–but there will also be an epidemic of early-onset dementia.

When will the public health authorities and regulators–the FDA, CDC, and Consumer Product Safety Commission–take necessary action to protect our young people?

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

A wave of hearing loss in young people is being predicted

and the cause of this epidemic, says Teresa Cowie, Radio New Zealand, is damaging levels of sound from personal audio devices and noisy venues, like nightclubs. Will it really be an epidemic? Cowie cites the World Health Organization, which puts the number of at risk teenagers and young adults at more than a billion. Who are these at-risk young people? Mostly 12-to-35 years olds in well off countries who listen to unsafe levels of sound on their personal audio devices and smart phones.

So how does the WHO and other health organizations know that an epidemic is on the way? Cowie interviewed Peter Thorne, an audiology professor at Auckland University, who said “[t]here are some studies where younger people coming into the workforce, areas where they might take audiograms or do hearing tests – like the military for example – and those studies have shown a proportion of youth coming in with hearing losses.”

Thorne notes that the rules for limits on sound volume are voluntary for the manufacturers of personal audio devices, but the WHO is “currently review regulations around the volume levels devices should be allowed to reach.”

Let’s hope that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies join in the effort to regulate the sound levels on these devices. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, after all, and given that there is no effective treatment or cure for hearing loss, anything less than a robust response would be criminal.



Important information for parents

Catherine Caruso, reporting for Scientific American, writes about “Detecting Hidden Hearing Loss in Young People.”  Caruso looks at hidden hearing loss, a phenomenon discovered in 2009, which the researchers who discovered it consider a “likely contributor to the cumulative loss typically associated with aging.”  Now, those researchers have developed tools for detecting hidden hearing loss and have discovered evidence of hidden hearing loss in young people.

While Caruso notes that there is hope that hidden hearing loss could be reversed in the future, she also points out steps one can take now to protect hearing: namely, by limiting noise exposure and using ear protection.  And parents, talk to your kids about their earbud and headphone use.  No one knows if and when researchers will be able to reverse hidden hearing loss, so avoiding hidden hearing loss in the first instance is the best tact.

World Health Organization: 1.1 billion young people worldwide face the risk of hearing loss

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has posted an important article on hearing loss and young people: Millennials, the Deaf Generation?  The article states that a major cause of hearing injury to young people are music players, noting that the WHO “found that almost half of those ages 12 to 35 listen to their music players at unsafe volumes, while around 40 percent expose themselves to very loud events such as concerts.”  Among other things, the article suggests that using over the ear headphones over earbuds could help reduce the risk, especially when coupled with keeping the player’s volume at 60% of its range and listening to music for no more than 60 minutes at a time.

The concern about hearing loss in young people is also addressed by Shari Eberts, a hearing health advocate in her piece, “A Silent Epidemic. Teen and Young Adult Hearing Loss.”  Ms. Eberts writes that “[a] research study published in The Journal of American Medical Association in 2010 found that 1 in 5 teens had some type of hearing loss. This was significantly above the 1 in 7 teens with hearing loss measured 10 years earlier.”  She agrees that the use of earbuds is a significant cause for the alarming increase in hearing loss, but she adds that “the increased volume levels at restaurants, bars, sporting events, and other venues are also likely to blame.”  As someone who has genetic hearing loss Ms. Eberts knows firsthand about the frustration and sadness young people with hearing loss will suffer, noting that such suffering is avoidable since noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.  As in the ASCH article, Ms. Ebert recommends steps people can take to avoid hearing injury in the first instance.

This silent epidemic of hearing loss is not going to be silent for much longer.  One hopes that the increased attention on hearing loss among the young will motivate government, business, and individuals to work together to prevent the unnecessary deafening of an entire generation.