The Kids' Stereos Are Alright

Devices don't cause hearing loss, but repeated ear infections can

TUESDAY, April 8, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Parents of children who have had frequent ear infections can let their kids use portable personal stereos with headphones without worrying that the devices will cause hearing loss, a new study concludes.

The Dutch researchers also said that using Walkmans and their brethren didn't harm children's hearing regardless of whether they had ear problems in early childhood.

Of course, that's provided the youngsters keep the volume at a reasonable level, experts caution.

Children with recurrent ear infections didn't escape unharmed, however. The study, which appears in the April issue of Pediatrics, found kids who had repeated bouts of ear infections suffered slight hearing losses.

According to the study, previous research had suggested children who had chronic ear infections were more susceptible to hearing loss caused by personal stereo use.

"Having ear disease doesn't make your ears more sensitive to personal stereos," says Dr. J. Lindhe Guarisco, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Ochsner Clinic Foundation Hospital in New Orleans. So parents of children who have had a lot of ear infections or have had surgery to have tubes placed in their ears to help end the infections "don't have to be paranoid about their kids using personal stereos," Guarisco says.

He also notes the hearing loss observed in this study confirms what doctors already know: "Recurrent ear infections that are left untreated are not a benign problem."

For the current study, researchers from the University Medical Center Nijmegen in the Netherlands recruited 238 people, all 18 years old. Half of the group had a history of recurrent ear infections and about half reported listening to personal stereos.

The researchers divided the group into four smaller groups. The first group was children who had prior ear infections who listened to personal stereos. The second group also suffered from ear infections in childhood, but didn't listen to personal stereos. Another group had no history of ear infections but listened to personal stereos and the final group had no ear infections and no personal stereo use.

The teens who used personal stereos were asked to bring in a favorite CD and given headphones and asked to listen to the CD at their usual volume. All of the study volunteers were also asked questions about previous ear infections, personal stereo use, whether they attended concerts or frequented nightclubs, and whether they were exposed to excessive noise at work.

The study found that personal stereo use didn't have an effect on children who had ear infections or on those who didn't. The researchers did discover that children who had numerous ear infections suffered from slight hearing losses.

"I don't think [the hearing loss reported in this study] would be a functionally significant loss," says Dr. Mark Gerber, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Guarisco agrees: "This is not a life-altering hearing loss."

Gerber says these study results don't give kids "carte blanche to turn up the volume," and emphasizes that personal stereos should be kept at a low volume to minimize the risk of hearing loss.

Guarisco says if parents can hear their youngster's tunes playing, the stereo is too loud. He says if your kids complain that they hear ringing in their ears or have a temporary hearing loss, those are signs that they're listening too loudly. "If you do that for too long," he says, "you can permanently destroy the cilia and affect your hearing."

More information

To learn more about the causes of hearing loss and how to prevent it, visit the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center or New Zealand's National Foundation for the Deaf.

SOURCES: J. Lindhe Guarisco, M.D., pediatric otolaryngologist, Ochsner Clinic Foundation Hospital, New Orleans; Mark Gerber, M.D., pediatric otolaryngologist, Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago; April 2003 Pediatrics
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