1 out of 5 American teens have suffered hearing loss

headphonesAny parent could tell you that teenagers aren’t usually the world’s best listeners. But according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for as many as 1 out of 5 American teenagers, poor listening skills may have as much to do with hearing loss as it does with attitude. New research shows 6.5 million teenagers demonstrate signs of hearing damage; a 30 percent increase from the number of hearing loss cases reported by teenagers in the early 1990s. The increased use of personal mp3 players like ipods, and louder, more advanced in-ear head phones is a suspected culprit, but more research is still needed.

Lindsey Claus, a 16-year-old musician from Mansfield who plays both the French horn and piano, says she first noticed her hearing loss about three years ago. She researched doctors online and then made an appointment with Children’s Hospital Boston’s Brian Fligor, ScD, director of Diagnostic Audiology, to protect her slightly damaged hearing and ensure her future as a musician. CBS Evening News recently ran an interview with Fligor and Claus, and reported on teenage hearing loss and its treatment at Children’s.

Immediately after the CBS report, Thrive spoke with Claus to learn more about her condition, its symptoms and how to notice early warning signs.

How long have you been playing music?
I started when I was in the second grade, so that was nine years ago.

When did you notice there was something different about your hearing, and what were your symptoms?
I first noticed it about three years ago. My head felt really full, kind of like when you get a stuffy head from allergies, but I knew it was something more than that. I had kind of constant a dull headache for a while too. It didn’t hurt, but felt weird and uncomfortable.

How did Children’s Hospital Boston treat your hearing loss?
I met with Dr. Fligor and we talked about my options and then he fitted me with musician’s earplugs, which are different than the type of foam ear plugs you get over the counter. They’re a clear plastic that goes directly into your ear, and are made using a mold of your ear so they fit very well without being too tight.

As a musician is it hard to play with special earplugs in? Does it effect how you hear the music you’re playing?
The reason I switched to musician’s ear plugs is because I tried regular foam ones but found I couldn’t hear my pitch very well or always keep up with the other musicians when I had them in. When I tried musician’s ear plugs I found I could hear everything going on around me perfectly, they just made the overall volume of everything quieter. Like when you’re watching TV and turn the volume down, all the sounds gets lower at the same level and same time, so it’s not too distracting for my playing. You get used to hearing with them in pretty quickly.

You’ve caught your hearing loss early and made conscious efforts to protect your hearing while playing. Does it affect any other aspects of your life?
It hasn’t really affected any of my social life, but I’m more aware of how things can affect my hearing now. If I’m going to the movies I may think beforehand about if I should go and if so if I should bring my ear plugs with me. When I saw Avatar it was really loud so I brought them in, but it depends on the situation.

You were on the news a lot lately, what was that like?
I was really nervous at first because I didn’t know what to expect, but in the end I enjoyed it. I think this is an important topic for people to know about, especially teenagers, but not something that gets discussed often. So even though I was kind of nervous, I knew it was for a good cause and that made me less anxious.