Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is normally associated with old age and hearing loss cause by viruses and other causes.
Recent surveys of teenagers have shocked researchers with a relatively high rate reported amongst teenagers.
About 4,000 Flemish high school students were asked to answer questions about whether they had permanent or temporary ringing in the ears. The survey also asked teenagers about how they coped with loud noises at concerts and when using headphones.
They were also asked about their use of hearing protection such as head phones or ear plugs, and their attitude to possible controls on loud music at concerts.
The results were very disturbing.
The results of the survey were:
► 20% of teenagers reported permanent ringing in their ears
► 75% of teenagers reported temporary ringing after attending loud concerts
► Only 5% of teenagers said they used hearing protection devices such as headphones or ear plugs.
The early incidence of tinnitus like symptoms worried the researchers because many older people with tinnitus find it very debilitating. It interferes with sleep, destroys the ability to concentrate, disrupts conversations and communication, and means that people affected find it very hard to ability to relax.
For teenagers it may affect school work and performance in test and examinations.
It could herald an increase in Tinnitus incidence and hearing problems in the next generation which is a growing concern.
There is an urgent need to make teenagers aware of the dangers of loud noises and to warn them to take precaution to avoid the risk of permanent hearing problems as they get older.
Tinnitus in older people is very difficult to manage and there is no cure.
Teenagers should also be aware of the dangers of having high volumes in head phones and other personal listening devices. Treatment offers relief for temporary episodes of ringing in the ears, but once it becomes permanent there is no turning back and the teenagers will have to cope with impaired hearing for the rest of their lives.
Parents are urged to check the volumes of sound their teenagers are exposed to, and to provide ear plugs and encouragement to use them.
Teenagers who experience temporary ringing in the ears should have their hearing tested as tinnitus usually developed as a result of impaired hearing.