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Warning to Teens: Loud Noise Now Can Cause Hearing Loss Later

12/27/2010  

It’s common for school-aged children to pop on a pair of headphones to listen to their favorite music. Could prolonged use of headphones eventually cause hearing damage? To learn the answer, the authors of a study in the January print issue of Pediatrics examined the results of hearing tests of 4,310 adolescents ages 12 to 19 taken as part of National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. 

The study, “Prevalence of Noise-Induced Hearing-Threshold Shifts and Hearing Loss Among U.S. Youths,” published online Dec. 27, found that exposure to loud noise or music through headphones increased from 19.8 percent in 1988-1994 to 34.8 percent in 2005-2006. Overall rates of hearing loss did not change significantly between the two time periods, except for one type of hearing loss among adolescent females. In 1988-1994, 11.6 percent of teen girls had noise-induced threshold shift, a type of hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise. In 2005-2006, the rate had increased to 16.7 percent.

The findings suggest that increased exposure to recreational noise and minimal use of hearing-protection devices might have increased female teenagers’ prevalence of noise-induced threshold shift to a level previously seen only for boys. However, the study results don’t indicate this hearing loss is due to use of headphones. Rather, the study authors conclude the increased rate of hearing loss in females may be due to other factors not reflected in the questionnaire, such as amplified music at concerts and clubs. The authors conclude more should be done to educate teenagers about the dangers of excessive noise. Chronic exposure to loud noise may not cause hearing loss in the short term, but it can gradually result in irreversible hearing loss later in life. 

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.