Good News on Headphones and Hearing Loss

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Young people continue to listen to loud music on their headphones. But a reassuring new analysis found that hearing impairment rates among teens have dropped since an alarming spike in hearing loss was reported a decade ago.

The study, in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, examined data from nationally representative samples of thousands of American youngsters aged 12 to 19 over more than two decades.

The rate of moderate hearing loss had increased to 22.5 percent in 2007-8, up from 17 percent during the period from 1988 to 1994. But it dropped to 15.2 percent in the most recent study period, in 2009-10.

The improvement surprised the researchers but is “great news,” said Dr. Dylan Chan, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and a study author. He attributed the improvement to behavioral changes such as avoiding noise and wearing volume-limiting headphones designed for children but cautioned, “I hope people don’t take this as an excuse to say noise-induced hearing loss is not a problem, so we can go back to listening to headphones at full volume.”

Hearing loss can have long-term repercussions, especially for children, affecting language acquisition and speech development, with implications for academic achievement, work performance and social functioning.