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Half of all teenagers may have hearing damage and tinnitus, says new study

teenagers may have hearing damage

A new study finds that a startling number of teenagers may have hearing damage and may have tinnitus or persistent ringing in the ears, a worrying trend, say health researchers.

“It’s a growing problem and I think it’s going to get worse,” says Larry Roberts of the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and co-author of the study. “My personal view is that there is a major public health challenge coming down the road in terms of difficulties with hearing.”

The study tested the hearing of 170 students between 11 and 17 years of age from a school in São Paulo, Brazil, and found that when placed in an acoustic sound booth, 28.8 per cent of the students perceived tinnitus, a marker of hearing damage. Through questioning, researchers also determined that over half of the students (54.7 per cent) reported that they had previously experienced tinnitus and that of this group, 51 per cent said they experienced tinnitus after listening to loud music, with 24.7 per cent reporting that the tinnitus disrupted their concentration and 17.1 per cent saying it interfered with sleep.

Typically affecting people over the age of 50, tinnitus presents as a buzzing, whining or even roaring sound which is not coming from an external source. It can range from extremely loud and disabling to only noticeable in a quiet environment and can either worsen or get better over time depending on a number of factors including noise exposure but also dietary factors and stress levels.

An estimated 360,000 Canadians live with a noticeable level of tinnitus and of these, 150,000 suffer to a degree that affects their quality of life.

The new study also found that those students experiencing tinnitus also had sensitivity to “normal” sounds and sound levels within a normal range, an indicator of damage to the auditory nerves which will cause sounds to seem louder than they really are. Scientists have determined that this type of hearing damage inflicted during the early years of life often gets worse with age.

“These observations call for study of the prevalence of tinnitus and reduced sound level tolerance among adolescents, which could forecast increased risk for hearing difficulties in later years,” say the study’s authors whose research is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

The president of the tinnitus association of Quebec puts the blame on personal audio devices for the current wave of hearing problems in young adults. “Right now more and more studies are published in the literature stating that the use of portable listening devices are too high,” said Sylvie Hébert, president of Acouphènes Québec and professor of psychology in the School of Speech Therapy and Audiology at the University of Montreal. “Young people don’t realize it right away. At some point they will have a high probability of having hearing loss and tinnitus,” says Hébert.

According to the World Health Organization 1.1 billion teenagers are at risk of hearing damage or hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices and exposure to loud sounds and music in nightclubs, bars and entertainment venues.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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  1. Until we question the mantra “all and any technology is good”, we may continue to find that our unlimited access to technology and technological products (like engineered food) will continue to undermine what a more cautious and wise society would do to regulate its unbridled use, all without substantial oversight or clear means to determine mitigating responsibility (yet another easy to anticipate externality that industry will fail to accept culpability for, I suspect. Another class action lawsuit coming here?). I am 50 and have tinnitus from nerve damage and I am sure that headphone use contributed. It is hard enough dealing with it at my age. I can’t imagine the effect on young people of the impairment of their senses so young. The premise that humans can improve on nature in an unlimited fashion, now mostly to serve the needs of an dangerously deregulated economy based on 200 year old irrational premises (the possibility of infinite growth, assumption of pure hedonistic self-interest) needs to be bridled, but I suspect the trolls will have something hateful and, (if they have a morsel of intellect not dominated by budding sociopathy, pithy to say in response. Bring it on trolls; I await your total lack of substantive content (you are the proof of one of the worst kind of possible of human behaviour).

  2. These are all the results of human-being going away from the nature.

  3. there is so much insensitivity to noise pollution and just ugly noises in general – NYC subways are now screeching their announcements so that multiple passengers will cover their ears – so nasty – maybe they think they have to overcompensate for headphone wearers but that is serving the stupid at the expense of everyone else. Also the alert chimes are hideous.
    Ice cream vans can make as much noise as they want. Nobody invited them to drive through the streets several times a day.
    I think the Chinese are guilty of this – it’s callous how screechingly loud and clumsy sounding the ads for 1480 am radio is in NYC. Maybe they are testing or diminishing the audience’s tolerance. Maybe most Chinese have no problem with how loud it gets or the show runners are not listening to themselves on the radio and can’t hear how nuts the ads sound now.

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