Children Suffer Silent Epidemic — Noise-induced Hearing Loss | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 October 2012 14:42

BY ZEV KAHN, M.D.

Special to the Times

Do you have to call your child several times before getting a response? If you have often wondered why your child doesn’t listen better, it’s possible that he or she may not be ignoring you — your child may have trouble hearing you.

The third most common health problem in the United States, hearing loss affects approximately 36 million Americans and more than half are younger than 65. Today, about one in five adolescents suffers from some type of hearing loss, which is an increase of 30 percent compared to the past two decades.

A growing cause of hearing loss in teenagers is exposure to loud noise. If your child has a hearing problem, it could affect his or her safety as well as ability to excel in the classroom and on the playground.

How we hear

Sound travels into our outer ear as sound waves, hitting our eardrum and causing it to vibrate. As the eardrum vibrates, it presses on tiny bones located in the middle ear, making them move too.

Next, these tiny, vibrating bones cause the fluid in the inner ear to bend very small structures called hair cells. When the hair cells bend, they convert the sound waves into electrical signals, which travel up the auditory nerve and to the brain where they are interpreted as sounds.

Noise-induced hearing loss

Measured in units called decibels, sound can become harmful when it exceeds 90 decibels. Affecting around 5 million children, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when the small hair cells in the inner ear are damaged by long-term exposure to sounds above 90 decibels or one-time exposure to sounds at or above 120 decibels.

One common cause of NIHL in teenagers is long-term exposure to high-intensity volume levels while using earphones with portable musical devices.

Symptoms and treatment

Your child may have a hearing problem if he or she is turning up the volume of the TV excessively high, not replying when you call or experiencing language delays.

Schedule a hearing evaluation with your physician if you are concerned. If your doctor determines that your child does have noise-induced hearing loss, he or she may recommend a hearing aid to help amplify sounds.

Today’s hearing aids are like miniature, state-of-the-art computers. Digital and reprogrammable, they can be customized for your child.

Prevention

Fortunately, NIHL in children is 100-percent preventable. Solutions include turning the volume down and using hearing protection, such as ear plugs. Look for noise ratings when buying products, especially when purchasing toys.

Because hearing loss impacts kids in their formative years, it’s important to catch it early. Working with your physician, you can keep your child’s hearing healthy, which is essential for developing successful academic and social skills.

Zev Kahn, M.D., is a board-certified otolaryngologist and is a part of the Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation. He is affiliated with Eden Medical Center.

 

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