NJ teen, young adult earbud use during COVID causing hearing loss risk
According to the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a World Health Organization study estimated more than 1 billion teenagers and young adults across the globe are at risk for hearing loss due to chronic exposure to high noise levels.
And once hearing loss occurs, it is irreversible, said Michele McGlynn, audiologist and NJSHA member.
Increased reliance on personal devices brought about by the remote learning conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't helped matters, according to McGlynn.
"Kids were turning in to their classes and just listening — even on their downtime in between classes, are often just plugging in for extended periods of time," she said.
More than anything, McGlynn said, it's that elongated time that is the most damaging, and while the trend began with a period of isolation, kids are continuing to turn up the volume even with their lives somewhat back to normal.
About 1 out of every 8 children (12.5%) from age 6 through 19 have suffered some sort of hearing loss because of excessive exposure, according to NJSHA.
"Often they're now in noisier environments, whether it's that noisy school bus, whether it's the train they're taking, whether it's going to a fitness gym and there's high levels of music playing," McGlynn said.
Early telltale signs of hearing loss can be a ringing or rushing sensation within the ear, increased sensitivity, or things sounding muffled.
McGlynn said these symptoms are the ear's way of responding to its inner mechanisms and hair fibers being overworked.
"We've all, as younger adults or teenagers, remembered going to concerts or leaving a place and having that ringing or that muffled sound," she said. "And that's a sign."
Keeping those formative experiences in mind, McGlynn said, much of the responsibility for educating children about the importance of their hearing falls on parents.
A routine screening in school or even in a pediatrician's office may not be enough to truly diagnose a problem, as McGlynn recommends a baseline hearing test.
Proper precautions certainly help. Parents and kids alike may not know that most modern phones have a headphone level limit that can be set, or that can be controlled through an app.
Noise-canceling headphones are also advisable in situations with loud ambient noise.
"I'll see kids outside mowing the lawn and they don't have hearing protection on, or any earmuffs, but you see them with AirPods on," McGlynn said. "And that's just another simple example of noise."
For more tips, NJSHA suggests checking out the "Noisy Planet" page run by the National Institutes of Health.