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Hearing damage on the rise among U.S. adolescents

February 6, 2013
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talking with your teenHearing loss is common and, in young persons, can compromise social development, communication skills, and educational achievement.

A survey was conducted to examine the current prevalence of hearing loss in U.S. adolescents and determine whether it has changed over time, with results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The survey was designed as a  cross-sectional analyses of U.S. representative demographic and audiometric data from the 1988 through 1994 and 2005 through 2006 time periods.

Study titles: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), 1988-1994, and NHANES 2005-2006. NHANES III examined 2,928 participants and NHANES 2005-2006 examined 1,771 participants, aged 12 to 19 years.

Researchers calculated the prevalence of hearing loss in participants aged 12 to 19 years after accounting for the complex survey design. Audiometrically determined hearing loss was categorized as either unilateral or bilateral for low frequency (0.5, 1, and 2 kHz) or high frequency (3, 4, 6, and 8 kHz), and as slight loss (>15 to <25 dB) or mild or greater loss (≥25 dB) according to hearing sensitivity in the worse ear.

The prevalence of hearing loss from NHANES 2005-2006 was compared with the prevalence from NHANES III (1988-1994). Researchers also examined the cross-sectional relations between several potential risk factors and hearing loss. Logistic regression was used to calculate multivariate adjusted odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: The prevalence of any hearing loss increased significantly from 14.9% (95% CI, 13.0%-16.9%) in 1988-1994 to 19.5% (95% CI, 15.2%-23.8%) in 2005-2006 (P = .02). In 2005-2006, hearing loss was more commonly unilateral (prevalence, 14.0%; 95% CI, 10.4%-17.6%, vs 11.1%; 95% CI, 9.5%-12.8% in 1988-1994; P = .005) and involved the high frequencies (prevalence, 16.4%; 95% CI, 13.2%-19.7%, vs 12.8%; 95% CI, 11.1%-14.5% in 1988-1994; P = .02). Individuals from families below the federal poverty threshold (prevalence, 23.6%; 95% CI, 18.5%-28.7%) had significantly higher odds of hearing loss (multivariate adjusted OR, 1.60; 95% CI, 1.10-2.32) than those above the threshold (prevalence, 18.4%; 95% CI, 13.6%-23.2%).

Conclusion: The prevalence of hearing loss among a sample of US adolescents aged 12 to 19 years was greater in 2005-2006 compared with 1988-1994.

Hearing loss is a common sensory disorder, affecting tens of millions of individuals of all ages in the United States. In school-aged children, even slight hearing loss (>15-24 dB) can create a need for speech therapy, auditory training, and special accommodations. Mild hearing loss in young children can impair speech and language development and lead to decreased educational achievement and impaired social-emotional development.

The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), conducted between 1988 and 1994, demonstrated that 14.9% of US children aged 6 to 19 years had low-frequency or high-frequency hearing loss (pure tone average [PTA] >15 dB) in at least 1 ear, and 12.5% had audiometric evidence of noise-induced hearing loss.

Although some hearing loss in children and adolescents can be attributed to identifiable causes such as infection, genetic syndromes, complications of prematurity, perinatal complications, ototoxic medications, head trauma, and hazardous noise exposure, only limited data exist on potential risk factors for much of the acquired hearing loss in this population.

Adolescent hearing loss in particular is not well understood, although it is common and can have important educational and social implications.

Some risk factors, such as loud sound exposure from music listening, may be of particular importance to adolescents as well.

Source: The Journal of the American Medical Association

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