Is your teen ignoring you or is it hearing loss?

Posted: August 25, 2016 | Word Count: 663

We were all teenagers once. We let health warnings from parents and others wash over us like waves, noticed but forgotten almost as soon as they’d passed, because we figured we’d deal with them when we were older. Unfortunately, the mistakes of youth can lead to long-term or permanent hearing damage much sooner than the average teen realizes.

Typical behavior or signs of a problem

Does the following scenario seem familiar?

Sarah is making dinner when she hears her son, David, come home from high school. She calls, “Hi, honey. Hope you had a good day. Dinner will be ready in a half-hour, OK?”

“Huh? Yeah, hi,” he says, and then heads upstairs.

About 40 minutes later the family is seated at the table and Sarah called to David twice. She sends her husband, Brian, to summon David.

Brian returns to the table, where Sarah says, “So? What’s the holdup?”

“He says no one told him when dinner was going to be ready.”

Sarah heaves a sigh. “I told him when he came home. He never pays attention anymore. Teenagers!”

Like Brian and Sarah, most parents would assume their teen was just ignoring them. But the actual problem might be hearing loss, which is affecting more kids today than ever before.

One out of six teens has hearing loss

“According to a 2014 survey, approximately one in six teens showed hearing loss symptoms often or all of the time, and nearly nine in 10 engaged in activities that could place them at risk,” says Donna Grant, Signia Active Kids & Teens program manager. Yet parents whose children always passed every school hearing assessment rarely consider the possibility they’ve begun losing their hearing.

Dangerous behaviors put kids' hearing at risk

More teens than ever regularly participate in behavior known to cause serious, and often permanent, hearing damage. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common culprit. Risk factors include:

* Listening to music through headphones or earbuds well in excess of 85 decibels (dB) for longer than 8 hours (the threshold past which damage begins to occur).

* Not using hearing protection — even cheap, over-the-counter foam earplugs — when attending loud events like rock concerts or fireworks. It’s important they know how to wear the hearing protection correctly.

* Spending long hours at crowded parties surrounded by extremely loud music and shouted conversations.

* Exposure to potentially ototoxic (ear poisoning) substances like “vape” mist, nicotine, over-the-counter and illegal drugs and alcohol.

What parents need to understand — and help their kids grasp — is that once the delicate workings of the inner ear have been damaged they cannot be repaired. According to Dr. Grant, the fragile hair cells (stereocilia) of the inner ear are finite. Once some or all of them are lost, no currently available treatment can regenerate them. “That means the teen blasting music through earbuds for hours at a time daily can expect to lose hearing now or in the near future, and no matter how much they might come to regret their carelessness, there won’t be any way to repair the damage done,” Dr. Grant says.

So, don’t brush off possible red flags of hearing damage off as typical teen problems. If you suspect hearing damage, schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor to have their hearing evaluated. If the physician agrees there is cause for concern, they will likely refer you to a hearing care professional to have their hearing formally tested and for possible fitting of hearing aids.

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