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.