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BISMARCK, N.D. — Hearing loss, defined as a gradual or sudden decrease in the ear's ability to detect and interpret sound, has become more prevalent among adolescents due to noise exposure.

A recent study published in the Journal of Medicine stated that the prevalence of hearing loss in adolescents from ages 12-19 has increased about 5 percent in the United States over the last 10 years.

"Approximately 20 percent of adolescents from the ages of 12 to 19 have hearing loss," Sanford Health audiologist and hearing aid specialist Amanda Boutilier said. "In adolescents, hearing loss is definitely due to excessive noise."

An example of excessive noise that has been known to cause harm to hearing among teens is listening to music too loud on personal devices, car stereos and concerts.

"A lot of things people don't realize is everyday activities, like lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners and hunting, can also lead to problems," Boutilier said.

Ears are extremely sensitive to loud music, which can damage little elements within the cochlea called hair cells.

"So when we have noise exposure, and it's excessive, the vibrations in the cochlea happen so fast that they basically shear off the hair cells and so that causes damage," Boutilier said. "And eventually it totally kills the hair cells, and the loss is permanent and there's nothing we can do to reverse it."

Sound intensity is measured in a system called decibels. Anything over 85 decibels can potentially cause hearing damage.

"A general rule is when you are listening to your iPod, if someone else can hear it, it is probably too loud," Boutilier said. "Another measure we use is if you look at your volume bar, your volume should never be over 50 percent."

There are no ear buds that are safer than others, but hearing loss can be avoided when listening to music by turning down the volume on the device.

"Anytime you are at a concert, you want to wear hearing protection, so that can be in the form of just basic ear plugs that you can buy over the counter, the little foam ones," Boutilier said. "Or you can see audiologists and you could get custom-fitted ear plugs. A lot of musicians wear those."

There are symptoms a person with hearing loss may experience. Hearing loss is diagnosed by an audiologist, a doctor who specializes in the treatment and diagnosis of hearing imbalance disorders.

"One of the signs that you may be damaging your hearing is if you incur any kind of head noise or ear noise, and we call that tinnitus, any kind of buzzing in your ears," Sanford audiologist and hearing aid specialist Debra Arneson-Thilmony said.

Although the most common symptom of hearing loss is tinnitus (ringing in the ears), there are other signs one may be experiencing hearing difficulties.

"Often people will say that they perceive that people are mumbling or voices aren't clear. If people find themselves asking for clarification or having trouble hearing in background noises, those are all symptoms of hearing loss," Boutilier said.

Hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent and will most likely result in having to wear hearing aids.

"So that's why it is so important to protect your ears, so you don't have to go down that road," Boutilier said. "As long as the clarity in your nerve is maintained, hearing aids will actually work really well, but it will never replace what Mother Nature gave you."

Most often, hearing loss due to listening to music too loud occurs gradually over time. If a sound is loud enough immediately, it can actually cause an immediate change in hearing.

"Hearing loss is very slow and insidious. It happens very gradually. You're not aware of it until it's too late, and you lose that precise thing that we cannot recover," Arneson-Thilmony said.

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