Parents rarely talk to teens about hearing loss

Teenagers are at risk for serious long-term hearing problems caused by excessively loud music or other loud noises. But parents don’t always grasp the gravity of the situation, or talk to their kids about it, according to a new study.

“I think parents are only recently becoming aware of the dangers of excessive noise exposure,” study author Dr. Deepa L. Sekhar told Reuters Health.

A pediatrician at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Sekhar said parents often ask her about this issue.

One in eight American kids and teenagers - or more than five million - has a type of hearing loss that usually stems from overexposure to loud noises, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Parents can help prevent much of that hearing loss, the researchers said.

For the new study, they collected Internet survey responses from more than 700 parents of teenage children.

Parents rarely talk to teens about Hearing loss Almost 70 percent of the parents had not spoken with their child about noise exposure, mainly because they thought the actual risk of hearing damage was low.

But almost an equal number reported being willing to limit time listening to music and access to other excessively noisy situations to protect their teenager’s hearing, according to results published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

On the whole, parents seemed willing to take steps to protect their kids, but often underestimated the risks of too much loud music.

“I think it just means that we have work to do in terms of raising awareness,” Sekhar said.

More educated parents and those with younger teens were most likely to be willing to take precautions with their kids, like limiting music time, limiting access to noisy situations or insisting on protective measures like earplugs.

Teen hearing loss is a serious problem, Robert V. Harrison said.

Harrison, a senior scientist who studies hearing at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was not involved in the new study.

Some teens have enough damage to have trouble communicating, he said, or they have ringing in the ears, which is a sure sign of damaged nerve cells in the parts of the brain devoted to hearing.

“But for many, the problem lies in the future 10, 20, 30 years ahead when ‘normal’ age-related hearing loss comes earlier or is accelerated,” he told Reuters Health.

Parents often ask Sekhar what volume is safe, but that’s a tough question to answer, she said.

“At this point it is difficult to give parents an exact volume level specifically because it is both the volume and the length of the exposure that impact hearing in the long run,” she said.

Parents could think about making use of volume-limiting headphones and volume controls on portable listening devices. They should also talk with their teen about using hearing protection in places where it is clear there is going to be a lot of noise, like concerts, shop class or outside while mowing the lawn.

“For example, one of the big things I see is teens mowing the lawn over the summer with their earbuds in,” Sekhar said. “Think about how loud a lawnmower is and how high the volume has to be turned up on the iPod for them to hear over that noise.”

Raising awareness that hearing protection is important is a good place to start, she said. The more parents know, the more likely they will be to step in.

“Parents cannot control what their teens listen to any more than they can control that their teenager wears a seatbelt each time he or she drives the car,” Sekhar said. But hearing health should be included in family discussions about general health and safety, she said.

“I think we all hope that we give our children the foundation, knowledge and support to make good decisions for their health.”

SOURCE: JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, online November 21, 2013.


Parental Perspectives on Adolescent Hearing Loss Risk and Prevention

Importance  Data indicate that 1 in 6 adolescents has high-frequency hearing loss, which is typically noise related and preventable. Parental participation improves the success of adolescent behavioral interventions, yet little is known about parental perspectives regarding adolescent noise-induced hearing loss.

Objective  To perform a survey to determine parental knowledge of adolescent hearing loss and willingness to promote hearing conservation to discern information that is critical to design adolescent hearing loss prevention programs.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A cross-sectional, Internet-based survey of a nationally representative online sample of parents of 13- to 17-year-olds.

Interventions  A survey conducted with the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, a recurring online survey.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Parental knowledge of adolescent hearing loss and willingness to promote hearing conservation.

Results  Of 716 eligible respondents, 96.3% of parents reported that their adolescent was slightly or not at all at risk of hearing problems from excessive noise, and 69.0% had not spoken with their adolescent about noise exposure, mainly because of the perceived low risk. Nonetheless, to protect their adolescents’ hearing, more than 65.0% of parents are either willing or very willing to consider limiting time listening to music, limiting access to excessively noisy situations, or insisting on the use of hearing protection (earplugs or earmuffs). Higher parental education increased the odds of promoting hearing-protective strategies. Parents were less likely to insist on hearing protection for older adolescents. Parents who understood that both volume and time of exposure affect hearing damage were more likely to have discussed hearing loss with their adolescent (odds ratio [OR], 1.98; 95% CI, 1.29-3.03). The odds of discussing hearing loss were also increased for those who were willing or very willing to limit time listening to music (OR, 1.88; 95% CI, 1.19-2.26) and to insist on hearing protection (OR, 1.92; 95% CI, 1.15-3.18) compared with parents who were very unwilling, unwilling, or neutral.

Conclusions and Relevance  Despite the rising prevalence of acquired adolescent hearing loss, few parents believe their adolescent is at risk. Those with higher education are more willing to promote hearing conservation, especially with younger adolescents. To create effective hearing conservation programs, parents need better education on this subject as well as effective and acceptable strategies to prevent adolescent noise exposure.

Sekhar DL, Clark SJ, Davis MM, Singer DC, Paul IM. Parental Perspectives on Adolescent Hearing Loss Risk and Prevention. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;():-. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2013.5760.

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