Health & Wellness

'It's going to get worse': Nearly 30 percent of teens have hearing damage

Teens, with their earbuds jammed deeply into their ears, aren't listening to the message about loud music and hearing loss.

A new study finds that nearly 30 percent of teenagers had a condition called tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ears.

“It’s a growing problem and I think it’s going to get worse,” study coauthor, Larry Roberts, a senior researcher in the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at McMaster University, said in a statement. “My personal view is that there is a major public health challenge coming down the road in terms of difficulties with hearing.

The World Health Organization has warned that 1.1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss because of portable digital music players and damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues, such as electronic dance music festivals, where sound levels can top 120 decibels for hours.

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But it's smartphones that are mainly to blame for the looming hearing crisis, said a hearing specialist.

“You [once] had a Walkman with two AA batteries and headphone thongs that went over your ears. At high volume, the sound was so distorted and the battery life was poor. Nowadays we have smartphones that are extremely complex computers with high-level fidelity, Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri, an ear, nose, and throat specialist from Munster Indiana who is not affiliated with the new study told TODAY in an earlier report.

According to the National Institutes of Health repeated exposure to sound levels over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. Permanent damage can occur in minutes.

Test your hearing online.

Roberts and his colleagues interviewed and performed detailed hearing tests on 170 students whose ages ranged from 11 to 17 years old, according to the study which was published Monday in Scientific Reports.

Most of the students reported engaging in “risky listening habits,” at parties, clubs and on personal music playing devices, and more than half said they had previously experienced tinnitus.

"Our results indicate that tinnitus persisting a few days or longer is alarmingly prevalent among adolescents who make extensive use of personal listening devices," said Roberts.

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It’s not uncommon to experience a temporary bout of tinnitus after being exposed to loud music or noise —that type of tinnitus usually lasts just a day or two. But, during the Canadian study 28.8 percent reported ringing or buzzing in their ears, a sign that the condition had become persistent.

Experts say the best way to protect young ears is to apply the "60/60" rule: Keep the volume on the MP3 player under 60 percent and only listen for a maximum of 60 minutes a day.

While the teens with tinnitus showed no hearing loss during testing, they were more sensitive to loud noises than others, which Roberts said is a sign that the auditory nerves had been damaged.

Other research has found that people who develop this kind of sensitivity are likely to develop hearing problems later on.

In other words: Turn it down now, so you're not asking, what, what?, later.

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