Tinnitus May Put Teens at Risk for Permanent Hearing Damage

June 23rd 2016
Jennifer G. Allen
Jennifer G. Allen

In the last year, nearly one-third of adolescents experienced ringing or buzzing in their ears that lasted more than 5 minutes, a recent report found.

In the last year, nearly one-third of adolescents experienced ringing or buzzing in their ears that lasted more than 5 minutes, a recent report found.

The study, which was published inScientific Reports,found that many adolescents and teens experience tinnitus—a ringing or buzzing in their ears—and unusual discomfort from loud noises, suggesting that excessively loud music may cause auditory nerve damage.

Researchers asked 170 adolescents aged 11 to 17 years to complete a questionnaire addressing their prior experience with “risky listening habits.” Then, they evaluated the participants in a sound booth for psychoacoustic measurements.

Although the audiograms produced didn’t disclose hearing loss among the study participants, 49 of them experienced tinnitus in the sound booth, and more than half of them self-reported experiencing tinnitus at some point in their lives.

Those with tinnitus had a significantly lower threshold for sound discomfort, as they exhibited unpleasant sensitivity to ordinary sounds that were 11.3 decibels lower than the noises that bothered participants without tinnitus.

The researchers primarily pointed to the near-universal use of earbuds with smartphones as the cause of this trend. Adolescents with tinnitus reported “near-universal listening” to music with earbuds and attending parties, shows, and raves with loud sounds.

The sound capabilities of smartphones and other music players significantly surpass those of earlier devices. The lack of distortion at high volumes that used to accompany older personal listening technologies may be encouraging teens to habitually turn the sound of their music and gaming up to unsafe levels.

Repeated exposure to volumes over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss, and it can only take minutes to do permanent damage. Raves and other loud music venues pump out music at sustained, high volumes up to 120 decibels.

The researchers said the current listening habits of adolescents could have future repercussions on hearing abilities.

“It is not uncommon for tinnitus diagnosed at an early age to subside over time, only to reappear later in life as a result of changes in cochlear function related to the cumulative effects of sound exposure or to age-related changes in central aspects of hearing,” they wrote.

Clinicians should consider counseling patients and parents during routine physicals about the risks associated with repeated exposure to loud music. They can also promote the “60/60 rule” as a means of preventing damage and hearing loss. The rule entails keeping a personal music player’s volume under 60%, and avoiding earbuds or headphones use surpassing 60 minutes per day.

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