ASHA Poll Exposes Troublesome Hearing Loss Trends

ASHA: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Editor: If you need any additional evidence to convince you (or your kids) that hearing loss is becoming epidemic among all population groups (including kids), this ASHA Survey should help!

Hearing Loss Symptoms Reported In High School Age Students And Adults

Commissioned By American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Survey Suggests Multi-Pronged Prevention Needed To Head Off Risk To Nation’s Hearing Health

(Rockville, MD, Thursday, March 14, 2006) More than half of high school students surveyed report at least one symptom of hearing loss according to a poll commissioned by the American Speech-Language-Hearing-Association (ASHA) and conducted by Zogby International.

The poll looked at not only the usage habits of high school students and adults with respect to some popular technology that provides audio through earbuds or earphones-devices like Apple’s iPod, other MP3 players, and portable DVD players – but it also probed the public’s views about potential hearing loss from such devices, plus what they believe would be the most effective way to convey a hearing-loss prevention message.

The findings for high school students reflect a national telephone survey with a target sample of 301 interviews and a margin of error of +/- 5.8 percentage points. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

For adults, the results stem from a national telephone survey with a target sample of 1,000 interviews and a margin of error of +/-3.2 percentage points. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

The polling found that high school students are more likely than adults to say they have experienced three of the four symptoms of hearing loss: turning up the volume on their TV or radio (28% students vs. 26% adults); saying “what” or “huh” during normal conversation (29% students, 21% adults); and, having tinnitus or ringing in the ears (17% students, 12% adults).

More disturbing is that less than half of high students (49%) say they have experienced none of the symptoms, compared to 63% of adults who say this.

It is not clear from the poll what is causing the symptoms, though it found usage habits among both students and adults that are potentially detrimental to hearing health.

For example, two-fifths of students and adults set the volume at loud on their Apple iPods, with students twice as likely as adults to play it very loud (13% vs. 6%). Meanwhile, adults are more likely than students to use their MP3 players for longer periods of time. Combined, more than half of adults use them 1-4 hours (43%) or longer (9%) compared to fewer than one-third of students-a disparity that may reflect the time adults spend commuting to and from work.

“Louder and longer is definitely not the way to use these products,” according to Brenda Lonsbury-Martin PhD, ASHA’s Chief Staff Officer for Science and Research. “Eventually, that becomes a recipe for noise-induced hearing loss, which is permanent.”

The release of the poll results were a key feature of “America: Tuned In Today . . . But Tuned Out Tomorrow?,” a panel discussion held today by national lawmakers and leading experts whom ASHA convened at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

They included: U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson(R-NJ), Vice Chair, House Subcommittee On Health; U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member, House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet; Lonsbury Martin; Brian Fligor, ScD, Children’s Hospital, Boston; Dean Garstecki, PhD, Northwestern University; and, Anne Marie Tharpe, PhD, Vanderbilt University.

“Our poll tells us that we should take a close look at the potential impact of some popular technology on hearing health,” according to ASHA President Alex Johnson, who moderated the panel discussion. “That is why ASHA believes in bringing experts together as we did today to discuss the issues involved.”

ASHA advises consumers to lower volume levels, limit listening time, and use earphones that–unlike ear buds which come with products like the iPod–block out unwanted sound that can prompt users to increase volume levels (77% of surveyed students, 81% of adults have not purchased such earphones, poll results indicate). It also encourages the public to see a certified audiologist if they are experiencing hearing loss symptoms.

“Overall, we believe that public education is a big part of the solution,” Johnson says. “We intend to redouble our efforts with a focus on prevention. Many ASHA members are school-based. Through them and others, we plan to reach out to younger kids-to their parents, significant adults, and educators. This is so important because even minimal hearing loss can significantly harm the social and educational development of children.”

Johnson also called for steps to make safe listening and protecting one’s hearing easier to practice. “Discussions need to occur between health experts and manufacturers about developing ways for consumers to know when they are putting their hearing at risk when they are using these devices.”

Conducted the last two weeks of February 2006, the ASHA-commissioned poll also found:

  • Both teens (69%) and adults (50%) are more likely to turn down the volume in an effort to prevent hearing loss than take other steps such as limiting the listening time
  • Among students, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely than Caucasians to report that they have experienced at least some symptoms of hearing loss
  • Adults seem less concerned about dangers to their own hearing, though in some cases they use the popular technology covered in the poll for longer periods and at higher volume than teens
  • Of the technology covered, only laptops were more likely to be used by adults
  • Except for the Apple iPod and one other MP 3 player, teens are more likely to use the products covered by the poll for longer periods, at higher volumes
  • Teenage boys are more likely than teenage girls to use the products surveyed in ways that may cause hearing loss later in life, by listening for longer periods and at higher volumes
  • Older adults are more likely to report using surveyed products at lower volumes than younger adults and teens
  • Equal percentages of adults (48%) and teens (47%) say that they are not concerned about hearing loss from using the surveyed products, with teens(53%) much more likely than adults(33%) to say they are concerned
  • More than one half of teens (58%) say they are not likely to cut down on the time they use the technology surveyed, and 31% are not likely to reduce the volume
  • While a majority of parents (59%) are concerned about hearing loss in their children from the use of the technology, less than half are willing to limit the amount of time their children use it
  • Only 10% of teens say learning about the dangers to hearing from family and friends is the best way for that message to be conveyed

ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for more than 120,000 audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems including swallowing disorders. For more information on noise and hearing loss or other communication disorders, visit ASHA at or call 1-800-638-8255 (TALK).

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