Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Say What? Headphones May Worsen Hearing Loss

MARTHA IRVINE, AP - Researchers fear the growing popularity of portable music players and other items that attach directly to the ears - including cell phones - is contributing to hearing loss in younger people.

"It's a different level of use than we've seen in the past," says Robert Novak, director of clinical education in audiology at Purdue University in Indiana. "It's becoming more of a full-day listening experience, as opposed to just when you're jogging."

Increasingly, Novak says he's seeing too many young people with "older ears on younger bodies" - a trend that's been building since the portable Walkman made its debut a few decades back...

To document the trend, Novak and colleagues have been randomly examining students and found a disturbing and growing incidence of what is known as noise-induced hearing loss. Usually, it means they've lost the ability to hear higher frequencies, evidenced at times by mild ear-ringing or trouble following conversations in noisy situations. Hearing specialists say they're also seeing more people in their 30s and 40s - many of them among the first Walkman users - who suffer from more pronounced tinnitus, an internal ringing or even the sound of whooshing or buzzing in the ears.

"It may be that we're seeing the tip of the iceberg now," says Dr. John Oghalai, director of The Hearing Center at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, who's treating more of this age group. "I would not be surprised if we start to see even more of this."...

"The tricky part is that you don't know early on. It takes multiple exposures and sometimes years to find out," says Dr. Colin Driscoll, an otologist at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic.

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