Say what?

One of the coolest trends of the last decade has made it easier to carry around an entire library of digitized music for one's listening pleasure.

It's also, especially among young people, contributing to a problem that one day may make the simple act of listening a difficult task.

Technology has allowed teenagers to carry around an entire music collection on an item no bigger than a cell phone.

But even though teenagers can hear the music better, it doesn't mean they are turning the volume down.

According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five United State adolescents have developed some sort of hearing loss.

In the report, researchers surveyed a sample of children in 2005 and 2006. Their results found 19.5 percent of the children had some sort of hearing loss, compared with 14.9 percent in the same study, which was done from 1988 to 1994.

Also, hearing loss of 25 decibels or more increased to 5.3 percent, which is up from 3.5 percent in 1988 to 1994.

Audiologists have not only directly connected the increase in hearing loss just to iPods and MP3 players, but also to what teenagers are using to listen to the music, such as ear buds – a type of headphone that goes directly in the ear.

"Anytime you get kids that close to the music, it's not a good recipe," said Matt Rumsey, an audiologist in Yankton. "That's the biggest deal. The shorter the distance, the less energy is required to do damage."

Terri Shive, an audiologist and assistant professor for the University of South Dakota, agreed with Rumsey, but added that music devices aren't the only culprit of hearing loss in teens.

"Any noise exposure can potentially be damaging," she said. "In this area, we have a lot of hunters, and the sound from the guns is damaging; so young men who hunt at an early age, a shot of a gun could damage their hearing."

Shive also said riding motorcycles without a helmet has also been a contributing factor.

Rumsey works with schools in Yankton and has seen the increase, and he said hearing loss can lead to a result in worse grades and a fall in job production.

"Even slight hearing loss has an affect on education and job performance," he said. "As we turn into adults, it shows an affect on income rating potential."

Even though the numbers are on the rise, there is an easy way to help curb hearing loss.

"One of the mottos of the Hearing Association is to pump down the volume, and turn it to the left," Shive said. "You should be able to hear people talking to you when you have the headphones in."

Rumsey added that teenagers should practice moderation with setting the volume, and to keep it at a reasonable level.

Rumsey also offered tips on how to prevent hearing loss at concerts.

"If you are at a concert and can't hear your friend within an arm length away, then you need to limit your time there," he said.

But the toughest part of helping young people avoid hearing loss could be getting teens to listen to this advice and to take it seriously.

"We all feel bullet proof when we are 17 to 20," Rumsey said. "It's the perception of being invincible, and they are probably going to listen to the music at a high level."

Shive added that teenagers do have to figure out the effects of hearing loss on their own, but still works to educate them on hearing loss.

"We have a mannequin to show them the affects of listening to music too loudly," said Shive, describing one of the ways she advises teenagers to avoid hearing loss. "Once you give them the knowledge, and once they can experience it, it tends to be a motivating factor."

Shive and Rumsey are also working to educate kids at a younger age. Rumsey is a part of the SAFEEars! program, which was developed by the Sertoma organization.

SAFEEars! has two types of curriculum, one of which is tailored to children in third through sixth grade, and the other one designed for children in sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

The SAFEEars! program offers activities that help young people develop an awareness of hearing and hearing loss.

Rumsey said the children have started to take notice about hearing loss with programs such as SAFEEars!

"They seem to be very receptive, and some of them notice when I wear protection when I mow or other activities," he said.

For more information on SAFEEars!, visit the website at www.sertoma.org/safeears

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