Hearing loss among youth overestimated, U researchers say

A recently published study by University of Minnesota researchers found rates of hearing loss among youth are lower than generally reported.

Conor Shine

Hearing loss among youth caused by loud noises like headphones or live music concerts is not as prevalent as previous research suggests, according to a new study by University of Minnesota researchers. 

The study, published last week, comes to a different conclusion than a similar one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month, which was widely cited in the media. The JAMA study estimated 19.5 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds in the United States have some sort of hearing loss.

The University study, led by researchers Bert Schlauch and Edward Carney, found that much of the reported hearing loss in the JAMA study and others could be attributed to false positives during research. 

 “The methods we use are really good for identifying significant hearing losses,” Schlauch said.  “This early evidence of a hearing loss due to noise exposure involves high frequencies where we have less accuracy and we’re looking for a very small change.”

Similar studies have not accounted for possible false positives, which has led to the reporting of inflated rates of hearing loss among youth, said Schlauch, professor in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences.

Schlauch and Carney studied hearing loss among the University marching band and found about 15 percent of members had hearing loss.  However, after averaging multiple hearing tests, more than half of the apparent cases of hearing loss due to loud noise exposure disappeared, Schlauch said.

Even a moderate hearing loss can have a serious impact on education, Schlauch said, so it’s important researchers develop accurate ways to determine when a hearing loss is present.  He said by understanding what things are more likely to cause hearing loss, people will be better able to protect their hearing.

“This is an important issue and I don’t want to make people think that it’s not important that they protect their hearing from intense sounds,” Schlauch said.  “It’s just that I think the percentages that have been reported — what was it, 1 in 5? That’s a much larger number than is actually the case.”