UCHealth sees increase in young people with hearing loss

Photo credit: George Milton

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

TV station KDVR in Denver reports that audiologists at UCHealth, the healthcare organization of the University of Colorado, are seeing an increase in teens and young adults with hearing loss. Hearing loss from noise exposure used to be a disease of the elderly, commonly if misleadingly called “age-related hearing loss” or “presbycusis,” but the audiologists are now seeing it in young people.

This phenomenon hasn’t been reported yet in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, but I expect that to happen in the next year or two. As noted in the report, young people are listening to their own personal music several hours a day, often at excessive sound levels, and that can cause noise-induced hearing loss.

This report isn’t surprising, and we have seen similar anecdotal reports over the last few years. As one of my mentors said many years ago, “the plural of anecdote isn’t scientific data,” but I think these anecdotal reports are a harbinger of scientific data to come.

WIth noise colleague Jan Mayes, I published this paper in 2021, about hearing loss and personal audio devices based on a presentation at the 2021 meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. The World Health Organization has estimated that 1.1 billion young people are at risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss from use of personal listening devices and exposure to other sources of loud noise.

I think that just as there is no safe cigarette smoking, there is no safe listening using personal listening devices. Reducing hours of use and reducing sound output levels will reduce the damage, but human ears didn’t evolve to listen to a constant personal sound track.

Parents should discourage or prevent younger children from using personal listening devices, and educate teens about the dangers of noise.

Protecting one’s hearing is easy: avoid loud noise. If it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and one’s auditory health is at risk.

Leave the noisy environment, turn down the volume, or use hearing protection to protect your auditory health.

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