The findings are published in the August 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“We have known for a few years that hearing loss is very common in US adults,” said lead study author Josef Shargorodsky, MD, a physician-investigator at the Channing Laboratory at BWH. “However, an understanding of hearing loss in adolescents can help to paint a better picture of overall hearing loss in the US, and aid in further identifying potential causes of hearing loss.”
The researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys of adolescents from across the US, age 12 to 19 years old. Researchers found that currently, one out of five adolescents has some evidence of hearing loss, while one out of twenty has at least mild hearing loss. Compared to data from the survey from 1988-1994, there has been a marked 30 percent increase in prevalence of any hearing loss, and a 70 percent increase in mild or worse hearing loss in the past 15 years.
“What makes hearing loss in adolescents even more concerning is previous research showing that teens underestimate the importance of hearing and the dangers of noise exposure, and don’t make protecting their hearing a priority,” said Dr. Shargorodsky, citing a study that found that hearing loss ranked low as a health concern, even though most admitted to experiencing ringing in the ears or some hearing impairment after attending loud concerts and clubs. As hearing loss itself is invisible and often underestimated, researchers hope this study will help raise awareness in both teens and adults of the importance of hearing conservation and encourage efforts to prevent hearing loss.
The researchers also found that hearing loss is more prevalent in adolescent males than females and more common in adolescents living below the US designated poverty level. “Further research is needed to better understand the causes of hearing loss, why it’s increasing in prevalence and why it affects some populations more than others,” said Dr. Shargorodsky.
The study was funded by the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary Foundation and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Development Funds.