According to a new study, nearly three quarters of high school and middle school students report that they have been exposed to noises loud enough to cause hearing damage while at school, and federal researchers indicate that not enough is being done to protect teens from the risk of hearing loss.
The prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss among teens is higher than expected, and finding published this week in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report suggests that much of that may be the result of loud noises at schools, where teens spend most of their waking hours.
CDC researchers used data from a sample of 817 teens ages 12 to 17 years old, who responded to the web-based YouthStyles survey in 2020. The survey measured the frequency of exposure to loud noise in school settings, if hearing protection devices were given by schools, and whether prevention was a part of the educational curriculum.
Three out of four teens report that they had been exposed to loud noises at school for 15 minutes or more. Nearly half of teens indicate they were exposed to noises considered loud enough to endure hearing loss, nearly every day or four times a week.
Loud noises experienced in school can range from audio and visual equipment, ventilation systems, external background noise like lawn care, and loud noises during extracurricular activities and sports. Noises can also include loud sports games, practices during marching band, or equipment used in shop classes.
In addition, 86% of students reported that their school did not provide hearing protection equipment, such as ear plugs or noise canceling headphones. The schools also did not teach preventive techniques to the students to help them reduce their risk of permanent hearing loss. Roughly seven out of 10 students said they never were trained how to protect their hearing.
The prevalence of noise induced hearing loss among teens ranges from 13% to 17.5%. Roughly, one out of every six middle school and high school students suffer from hearing loss.
Health experts consider noise-induced hearing loss a substantial, but too often unrecognized, health problem. Even mild levels of hearing loss can negatively affect auditory perception and cognitive skills in children.
The World Health Organization and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend improving information on hearing health and educational awareness campaigns for students. Additionally, implementing three prevention steps can help protect children from hearing loss: lowering the volume of audio equipment, moving away from the sound source, and wearing ear protectors such as earplugs or noise canceling headphones.
“Health care providers and educators have resources available to prevent noise-induced hearing loss among school-aged children,” the CDC researchers wrote. “Increasing youths’ awareness about adverse health effects of excessive noise exposure and simple preventive measures to reduce risk can help prevent or reduce noise-induced hearing loss.”