Hearing Loss in Young Patients Raises Concern

Children or teenagers who regularly listen to an iPod or other MP3 player, those many hours can actually be damaging their hearing.

These days we are facing health crises of epidemic proportions. With obesity and diabetes at the forefront of the crisis, health concerns from the innumerable chemicals that have infiltrated our air, water and food supplies, and the constant barrage of sound from a multitude of sources, health professionals are seeing young patients with ailments that have in the past been seen in much older individuals.

The field of audiology is no exception. Doctors Ray and Garr Crookston of the Hearing Zone in Alameda have been seeing more and more young people who are concerned about their hearing and experiencing hearing loss than they have seen in the past. Dr. Garr Crookston has been practicing for more than 35 years and has seen a change in this demographic. “In my early years of practice I saw mostly World War II vets and farmers who drove loud tractors and other farm equipment,” Crookston said.

“Currently there are more young people coming in who have had noise exposure from stereos in vehicles, concerts and from wearing loud headphones.”

Young veterans returning from action in Afghanistan and Iraq are not the only patients complaining of hearing loss and ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Musicians, people who ride motorcycles and MP3 player users are also coming in for consultations and hearing aid considerations.

The sense of hearing is a finely tuned process. The ear is made up of three sections. The outer ear consists of the external ear that you can see and the ear canal.

Sound is gathered from the environment and travels down the canal to the eardrum (tympanic membrane).

The middle ear consists of the eardrum and three tiny bones. The bones are called the malleus, incus and the stapes and are often referred to as the hammer, anvil and stirrup. Sound from the outer ear causes the eardrum to vibrate. The vibrations are then passed along the malleus, incus and stapes, to the inner ear.

A part of the inner ear, the cochlea, has tiny “hairs” that change sounds into signals, which travel along the hearing nerve to the brain. The brain interprets the signals as sounds, which creates the sense of hearing. When those “hairs” are damaged and become brittle and unresponsive, the result can be hearing loss or tinnitus.

Sound is measured in units known as decibels. A whisper in a quiet library measures at 30dB, a telephone dial tone measures 80dB. The level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss is 90 to 95dB; a power mower from three feet away or a motorcycle register at over 100dB, a loud rock concert at 115dB.

A night at the symphony can peak at 135dB, and surprisingly enough, a portable music player set at medium to high volume registers as high as 95dB. The sounds of jet engines and gun blasts register at 140dB, a level at which even short-term exposure can cause permanent damage. Our service men and women face exposure at that level on a daily basis, and must for their safety’s sake forego adequate ear protection.

Hearing damage can be avoided, in most cases. Earplugs designed specifically for musicians, with custom earmolds, replicate the natural response of the ear canal so the sound heard is similar in quality as the original, but with less harsh loud sounds. Filters are interchanged in the earplugs to reduce the intensity of the sound by varying degrees. The plugs are designed for musicians but are used with all people sensitive to loud sounds and who are often in noisy environments.

Source Almameda Sun: Written by SUN STAFF REPORTS    Published: THURSDAY, 02 JUNE 2011

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