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Hearing Loss among Teens is Up 30% – are we focusing solely on noise?

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Earbuds are causing more damage than previously thought—and the government is doing nothing to warn people! But the proper nutritional support can lessen the hearing loss, and in some cases even reverse it.

The Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston reviewed adolescent hearing tests from 1988–1994 and 2005–2006. Their conclusion, published in a recent issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, was that hearing loss among teens aged 12–19 has increased a significant thirty percent.
In a different study, published online last month in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers examined the ears of 8,710 teenage girls who were from homes and neighborhoods “stressed by poverty, substance abuse, and violence.” At the beginning of the study, 10.1% of the girls were diagnosed with high-frequency hearing loss. Twenty-four years later, that figure had nearly doubled to 19.2%, the researchers found.
What’s more, among girls with documented hearing loss, the proportion that were classified as having cases that were “mild or greater” (as opposed to “slight”) rose from 26% in 1985 to 61% in 2008. In 2001, researchers began asking the teens about their use of personal listening devices. In that year, 18% said they listened to music through headsets; by 2008 that figure had ballooned to 76%.
The number of girls who listened for more than three hours per day tripled during that period, according to the study. Nearly 24% of those who spent a significant chunk of their day with earbuds in their ears were diagnosed with high-frequency hearing loss, and almost 20% wound up with tinnitus, or “ringing in the ear.”

The problem, of course, is that the human ear is not made for continuous and especially loud music right inside the ear. Even an hour a day of sufficiently loud music can lead to ear damage. Shockingly, even though these studies have been reported in medical journals and mainstream media alike, the government has still not seen fit to warn the public with any concerted effort.
But as Time magazine recently reported, diet and nutrition, as well as exposure to toxins, might also be factors. Living in poverty is also associated with greater risk of hearing loss among youngsters, as children in lower-income families may not be getting adequate nutrition to support proper development of the auditory system. Jonathan Wright, MD, is currently conducting a clinical study regarding dietary supplementation and hearing loss.
Some of the most intriguing research comes from the Armed Forces Research Lab and that of Dr. Michael Seidman at Henry Ford Hospital. In fact, Navy researchers developed a tiny catheter to deliver antioxidants directly into the ear canal of those afflicted with combat-related hearing loss. It makes economic sense with the military costs of hearing loss related to combat $1.5 billion in 2007. This research has focus on loud noise as a free radical that can negatively impact the cilia that line the auditory canal. Antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, and magnesium, have been infused into the ear canal to those exposed to loud noises from combat sources with excellent results. It appears that antioxidants can help prevent hearing loss and even reverse it if administered within 4 to 8 hours of a combat-related hearing loss.
Some studies have indicated that magnesium intravenously along with vitamin C have great benefit to prevent and even reverse hearing loss. There is now a move to formulate a pill of antioxidants focusing on n-acetyl, cysteine a precursor to an important antioxidant, glutathione, to address the oxidative stress of loud noise. The combination of a fast, processed American diet often lacking in antioxidants in conjunction with loud, continual exposure to noise from technology appears to be deadly to our ability to hear. The major antioxidants used to address hearing loss include vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, magnesium, n-acetyl cysteine as well as folate (see below).
There has been much enthusiasm using antioxidants to prevent and even restore hearing loss, and a firm has embarked to develop a proprietary medication of an antioxidant to address hearing loss from loud noise and from chemotherapy agents. There is also interesting research that natural folate acid along with the other B vitamins, thiamine and B12, may have benefit to prevent and even reverse hearing loss. Keep in mind there is a growing body of evidence that just as there is a difference clinically between synthetic beta carotene and the natural mixed carotenoids, there is a difference between synthetic folic acid and natural folate. It appears that the use of natural folate may have far superior results in terms of human clinical use.
It is a tragedy that there is little focus on lifestyle education regarding hearing health. The modest use of earbuds along with optimizing antioxidants to protect the delicate cilia that line our auditory canals may be an excellent preventive action for all of us to take to preserve the health of our hearing. The exciting news that hearing loss may be reversed using antioxidants has been overlooked by the mainstream media.
There are a myriad of multiple vitamin and mineral formulas on the market to protect our vision. How long will it take for formulations to appear to protect our hearing? The baby boomers who rocked often losing their hearing for 30 minutes after a Ted Nugent concert (come on, admit it, it happened to me) along with the current generation of teens plugged into their iPods on a continual basis may appreciate lifestyle choices to preserve and protect their hearing.
Deborah Ray, MT (ASCP)

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