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Hearing loss spikes among U.S. adolescents

By Craig Boerner
January 2011

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Hearing loss is now affecting nearly 20 percent of U.S. adolescents age 12-19, a rise of 5 percent over the last 15 years, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study co-led by Ron Eavey, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center and the Guy M. Maness Professor in Otolaryngology.

Eavey, who conducted the study with former Harvard colleagues Josef Shargorodsky, M.D., Sharon Curhan, M.D., and Gary Curhan, M.D., said the results are troubling because hearing loss in adolescents is on the rise and researchers don't have any hard evidence to explain why.
The study compared hearing tests conducted as part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), 1988-1994, and NHANES, 2005-2006.

The earlier study examined 2,928 participants and the 2005-2006 study examined 1,771 participants, ages 12-19.

The prevalence of any hearing loss increased from 14.9 percent in 1988-1994 to 19.5 percent in 2005-2006.

“One could have hypothesized the opposite,” Eavey said. “There are vaccines out now that can stop bacterial meningitis and they also help get rid of some cases of ear infections, so that incidence is down.

“The knee-jerk answer that one might conclude, although supporting data is not clear, is that the increase is caused by loud volume.”

Hearing loss in young persons can compromise social development, communication skills and educational achievement, according to the authors.

“We are looking at the front wall of an epidemic and we can help to prevent the loss to allow the kids to enjoy their ears and their great music a lot longer,” Eavey said.

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