Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have determined that hearing loss in adolescents has increased over the past 15 years. Their findings are to be published Wednesday (Aug. 18) in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Hearing loss is a common and underrecognized public health problem that can influence a child’s educational, psychological, and social development. However, until now little was known about changes to the prevalence of adolescent hearing loss over time.
“We have known for a few years that hearing loss is very common in U.S. adults,” said lead study author Josef Shargorodsky, 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 U.S., and aid in further identifying potential causes of hearing loss.”
The researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of adolescents (12 to 19 years old) from across the United States, finding that one of five adolescents has some evidence of hearing loss, while one of 20 has at least mild hearing loss. Compared with survey data from 1988 to 1994, there has been a 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 Shargorodsky, a clinical fellow in otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School.
The researchers also found that hearing loss is more prevalent in adolescent males than females and more common in adolescents living below the 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 Shargorodsky.
Researchers hope this study will encourage efforts among teens and adults to prevent hearing loss.
The study was funded by the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary Foundation and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Development Funds.