Now Hear This: Turn it to the LeftHampshire Union Leader
By Jim Fennell
March 13, 2008
Noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, is nothing new. Who it's affecting is.
Dr. Ike Valdez of the Audiology and Hearing Center at Concord Otolaryngology has been treating NIHL -- damage to inner ear sensory cells that could cause a person a permanent loss of hearing -- for 25 years. But it's the patients he's now treating that are alarming him and other audiologists around the country.
Valdez said the people he traditionally treated for NIHL were in their mid- to late-60s -- the cause often related to an accumulation of loud noise from everyday life -- but now he's seeing people 20 years younger in different stages of hearing loss. And, even more disturbing, the patients are getting younger.
Valdez said he recently treated a teenage boy for NIHL and he expects to see more such cases.
"We as audiologists are pretty concerned about it now," Valdez said.
According to research by the American Academy of Audiology, 1 in 8 children in the United States suffer from noise-induced hearing loss. Much can be attributed to their frequent use of headphones and ear buds from MP3 players and video games. Prolonged games or an hour on the treadmill listening to music can lead to trouble.
The combination of high volume levels and extended exposure to the noise can quickly lead to hearing loss. Valdez said anything over 85 decibels is considered damaging to hearing. He said listening to loud music through ear buds can be three times as damaging to the ear as listening to loud music in a room with speakers.
"The closer you are to the sound source, the higher the intensity level," Valdez said.
"Turn it to the Left" is a new campaign launched by the American Academy of Audiology to raise awareness of NIHL to young people.
"The hearing loss kids experience now will accelerate the hearing loss normally associated with aging when these kids are in their 60s and 70s," said Alison Grimes, president of the American Academy of Audiology and head of the Audiology Clinic at UCLA Medical Center. "Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the United States and affects more than 31 million Americans. With the Turn it to the Left campaign, we hope to educate kids to turn down the volume and prevent hearing loss before it begins."
The Turn it to the Left campaign features a rap song of the same name by Ben Jackson of Rhythm, Rhyme, Results.
"It ain't no fun when you're 20 years old
But your ears are 81
Imagine what it's like to be hearing this track
But the words are muffled and the beat is whack."
Jackson, 27, became aware of NIHL when his father, conductor Isaiah Jackson, was diagnosed with it.
"I had no idea how many people -- especially kids -- suffer from hearing loss until my dad talked to his audiologist," Jackson said. "I produce a lot of educational rap, so I thought I should write one that would speak to kids and alert them to the importance of turning the volume down on their iPods and phones."
The Better Hearing Institute recently named Deidre Downs, the 2005 Miss America, a national spokesman to "promote the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss among children throughout the United States." Downs, studying to be a doctor, was born with hearing loss.
Valdez said older people who suffer hearing loss might get by because they can figure out what people are saying by identifying a word two in each sentence. That's not so easy with younger people who are still developing their vocabulary.
"Hearing loss affected me dramatically as a child," Downs said. "I began wearing hearing aids in kindergarten, but I was very self-conscious about them. Yet when I didn't wear them, I felt a different type of social isolation because I had trouble following conversations."
Valdez said the first preventive measure for anyone who wears ear buds or headphones is to start with the volume low and turn it up only until they can hear it comfortably. A better step is to buy noise canceling headphones and ear buds, which help eliminate the surrounding noise and allow you to listen to the sound through the ear buds at a lower level.
On the Net: TurnIttotheLeft.com.