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Pump Down the Jams: 20% of Teens Suffer from Hearing Loss

by April Maguire

Does your teen have a tendency to blast his music at top volume? According to a recent Penn State study, an astonishing 20 percent of teens suffer from some degree of hearing loss, often the result of hazardous noise exposure.

Even more disturbing, a new report out of Penn State College of Medicine indicates that traditional screening techniques are inadequate for diagnosing hearing problems in many teens. Researchers at Penn State are currently working on a new screening method to find high-frequency hearing loss in young people.

Testing Teenagers for Hearing Problems

If you grew up in the US, then you probably remember having your hearing tested by the school nurse. And while state-standard hearing tests offer effective screening for low-frequency hearing loss due to ear infections and illnesses, studies show that these techniques often fail to detect high-frequency hearing loss in adolescents. In fact, the Penn State report reveals that state-mandated screenings detect only 13 percent of adolescent hearing loss compared to the 100 percent found with the new screening techniques.

Unlike the old methods of hearing analysis, the screening technique pioneered by Penn State’s Dr. Deepa Sekhar and her team doesn’t rely on subjective testing measures. Instead of requiring teens to raise their hands when they hear a tone, the new test uses objective screening techniques. Although there are more false positives with this new form of testing, researchers are confident that it will prevent hearing-impaired students from falling through the cracks.

Understanding Hearing Loss in Teens

Because symptoms of high-frequency hearing loss can be subtle, many students go through school without ever receiving the care and treatment they need. Because even mild hearing loss can lead to a number of issues with social and academic development, it’s important that students are diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

In fact, studies show that children with hearing loss are more likely than their peers to stay back a year. Additionally, adults with hearing loss often earn less than their normally hearing counterparts. Total lost wages can average $220,000 over a lifetime, so parents should take care to have their children evaluated at regular intervals throughout adolescence.

From genetic conditions to noise exposure, there are a number of factors that can contribute to adolescent hearing loss. Regular thorough evaluation is the best way to protect your teen’s hearing and safeguard his or her educational future in the years to come.

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