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Serious hearing loss for 1 in 5 teens: survey

May 22, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A national survey reveals one out of five teenagers is suffering from a hearing loss so serious that the damage might be permanent.

The level of hearing loss among American teens has risen to a level researchers have never seen before. So scientists from the House Ear Institute wanted to identify why this happening and figure out what they can do about it. So they decided to go to rock concerts to get some answers.

Many of us know what it's like to have your ears ring hours after a concert, but can that damage be measured? Mariah Hernandez, 18, was one of 30 local teenagers who proved it could.

"Before, my ears were OK. You wouldn't have to talk loud and I could hear you. But now I feel a lot of pressure in my ears, so you have to talk louder," said Hernandez.

The House Research Institute shot a video at a three-hour concert at Staples Center last summer.

Dr. Jennifer Derebery and her colleagues evaluated the concertgoers' hearing before and after.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines require hearing protection in workplaces where decibel levels reach higher than 85. At the concert being studied, more than a third of songs reached over 100.

"At this concert, no, I didn't wear earplugs. I wanted to get the full experience," said Hernandez.

Each kid was advised to wear plugs, but only three chose to use them. Of those who didn't?

"Seventy-one percent of them had an abnormality after the concert," said Derebery. "All of the kids were normal before the concert."

The damage to healthy sensory neural cells inside the ear look like much different after noise damage.

"Everything sounds the same, but it feels different, my ears feel different," said volunteer Steven Chik. Feels like there's pressure."

Sensory neural hair cells line the inside of the ear's cochlea. When they're exposed to loud noise, they stand up, swell and lie down. When they're down, they don't work. Recent research shows just one exposure to loud noise might be enough to keep them down permanently.

"We are no longer confident that this is going to reverse back. Hopefully it will and likely it will, but it shouldn't have occurred in the first place," said Derebery.

Derebery says the study shows few teens would choose to wear earplugs so it's up to concert promoters to make sure kids are safe when they go to performances.

"We want to work with the promoters on this. We want concerts. We like concerts, everybody does. We just want to work with the promoters at these venues, at these stadiums, and say let's get these to reasonable sound levels."

Derebery says a four-hour concert at 90 decibels would be considered safe. But more research needs to be done to find out if a teen's hearing is more vulnerable than an adult's. Derebery adds that anybody can download an app that can measure how loud a concert is.


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