Campus & Community

MTV, Harvard study reveals adolescent disconnect

3 min read

Teens unaware of hearing peril, yet willing to listen

When it comes to the knowledge that loud noise may result in hearing loss and that hearing protection can help, the MTV generation suffers a definite disconnect, according to the results of a novel Web-based survey designed by researchers from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI), Harvard Medical School (HMS), and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

While many adolescents and young adults consciously expose themselves to loud music for entertainment, the researchers hypothesized that these individuals might not be aware that over-exposure could result in hearing loss. To find out, and to assess the feasibility of a Web-based survey to collect health information from this group, a 28-question survey was designed by the researchers and posted by the Music Television Video ( Web site for three days. The survey included questions about views toward general health issues, including hearing loss, and was presented to random visitors at the MTV site. At the end of the three-day period, 9,693 surveys were completed.

According to Roland Eavey, director of Pediatric Otolaryngology at the MEEI, and his co-authors, the results were both disheartening and hopeful. Hearing loss was defined on a Likert scale as a low priority relative to other health issues. Hearing loss was ranked a big problem by only 8 percent of respondents as compared with other health issues: sexually transmitted diseases, 50 percent; alcohol/drug use, 47 percent; depression, 44 percent; smoking, 45 percent; nutrition and weight issues, 31 percent; and acne, 18 percent. Notably, most respondents had experienced tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or hearing impairment after attending concerts (61 percent) and clubs (43 percent). Only 14 percent of respondents had used protective earplugs; however, many said they could be motivated to try ear protection if they were aware of the potential for permanent hearing loss (66 percent) or were advised by a medical professional (59 percent).

“The good news is that many young people indicated that they would consider wearing hearing protection, for an entirely preventable and lifelong hearing loss condition, if they were counseled by a medical professional,” said Eavey, who is also professor of otology and laryngology at HMS.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a significant social and public health problem. Several studies have reported an increasing trend of NIHL in children and adolescents, the authors wrote. In a large, national study, Niskar and colleagues estimated that 12.5 percent of children aged 6 to 19 years have noise-induced hearing loss. This phenomenon has been linked to recreational noise and leisure activities. Although short periods of exposure to amplified sound may be experienced without permanent hearing loss, the damage from chronic exposure to those sound levels is cumulative so that a slight hearing loss in childhood can eventually become a substantial one in adulthood. The prevention of such hearing loss begins with education targeting children and young adults.

According to Eavey, and other Web vehicles may be effective in reaching the target audience.

Co-authors on the paper included Jeanne H. Chung, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary; Catherine M. Des Roches, Harvard School of Public Health; and John Meunier, Cogent Research, Cambridge.