Children's Health and Wellness
February 2014

Hearing Loss Is Hitting Children Hard

Parents, now hear this: More American children are losing some or all of their hearing. But too few parents seem to be aware of any hearing hazards, according to a recent survey. By taking steps now, you can help keep your child’s hearing well-tuned into adulthood.


Hearing hazards

Since 1988, the number of children with hearing loss has jumped more than 30%. Nearly 1 out of 5 adolescents ages 12 to 19 may have a hearing problem. Excessive noise—mainly from personal music players—is partly to blame. Listening to loud music with headphones can gradually affect hearing. Environmental noises, such as heavy traffic, can also be harmful.

In a recent survey of more than 700 parents, two-thirds of them didn’t believe their child was at risk for any hearing problems. Of all the potential hearing harms, headphone use was the most recognized culprit. But many parents didn’t know that using a lawn mower, playing in band at school, or talking on a cell phone could damage hearing, too.

Ear protection

The human ear is a delicate instrument. As sound travels into it, small hair cells transform the sound waves into electrical pulses for the brain. Repeated exposure to loud noise—especially over an extended period of time—can permanently damage these cells. The result: partial or complete hearing loss. A ringing or buzzing in the ears—known as tinnitus—is also common.

It can be hard to tell if your child has any hearing loss. Some possible signs include turning up the volume on the television too loud or not following directions. Your child’s tendency to not pay attention or even ignore you may actually stem from a hearing problem.

If you think your child may have hearing loss, talk with your child’s health care provider about a hearing test. In general, children receive such a test before entering school. But hearing loss can happen at any time.

To help protect your child’s hearing, consider making these changes at home:

  • Turn down the volume on televisions, radios, and personal music players. The sound should be set to the lowest level that you can hear clearly.

  • When your child listens to music, discourage the use of ear buds that insert tightly into the ear canal. If possible, opt for noise-reducing headphones. They limit outside noise so you can keep the volume low.

  • Make sure your teen wears ear plugs when doing loud outdoor chores, such as cutting the grass or using a leaf blower.

  • Choose toys that either don’t make a lot of noise or have a volume setting.

  • Minimize noise from within and out. Decorate your home with soft furnishings—thick carpet, area rugs, cushions, or curtains—that muffle sound. To keep outdoor noise at a minimum, caulk any cracks or other openings near windows and doors.

Hearing hazards are all around us. Learn more here. 

Obesity May Impair Your Child's Hearing

Obesity has been linked to many health woes. Perhaps surprisingly, you can add hearing loss to the list. A recent study of nearly 1,500 adolescents found those who were obese were twice as likely to have hearing problems.

What's the possible connection? Excess body fat may lower the production of a hormone called adiponectin. That, in turn, may damage organs in the body, including the ears. 

Print Source: Change in Prevalence of Hearing Loss in U.S. Adolescents. J. Shargorodsky, et al. JAMA. 2010;304(7):772-8.
Print Source: Obesity Is Associated with Sensorineural Hearing Loss in Adolescents. A. Lalwani, et al. The Laryngoscope. 2013;123(12):3178-84.
Print Source: Parental Perspectives on Adolescent Hearing Loss Risk and Prevention. D. Sekhar, et al. JAMA Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. 2013. Printed online ahead of print, doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2013.5760.
Print Source: The Prevention of Noise Induced Hearing Loss in Children. R. Harrison. International Journal of Pediatrics. 2012. Published online, doi: 10.1155/2012/473541.
Online Source: Hearing Loss in Children. Facts, CDC, 2012
Online Source: Fact Sheet: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Children, American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 2011
Online Source: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 2012
Online Source: Noise: Keeping It Down at Home, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 2012
Author: Semko, Laura
Online Editor: Sinovic, Dianna
Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 1/23/2014
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