Hearing loss among U.S. adolescents has surged, probably because of the use of devices such as earbuds for listening to music, doctors say.
Researchers surveyed a sample of children ages 12 to 19 in 2005 and 2006 and found that 19.5 percent had some hearing loss, compared with 14.9 percent in a study covering the years 1988 to 1994, according to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Listening to loud sounds through earbuds -- the tiny electronic speakers that fit into ears, for use with personal music players -- is probably the main reason that more adolescents are losing some of their hearing, said William Slattery, director of clinical studies at the House Ear Institute, a Los Angeles medical practice.
"Once you have hearing loss, there's a greater risk of that hearing loss progressing as you get older," Slattery, a clinical professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview.
Teens and parents need to be told that hearing loss from noise that occurs early in life isn't reversible, he said.
Hearing loss may affect teenagers' social development and education, said Gary Curhan, an author of the study, who is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a physician at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.
"In an educational setting, even kids with slight hearing loss do not perform as well as those with normal hearing," Curhan said.