Special Report: Doctors say kids are at higher risk for hearing loss

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Dr. Rachel Wood (Source: WAFB)
Dr. Rachel Wood (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Andrew Pancamo, 25, loves to rock out. You may recognize the LSU grad from his gigs at Gasa Gasa or Tipitina's, both in New Orleans.

He's the bass player for the local band, Motel Radio. He started playing at the age of 15, and credits his talent to tedious practice: four hours a day in a small room with a big amplifier. While his bass chops improved, the training had another effect.

"After every one of my practices I mean, I'd have a headache, or I would go home and go to sleep and hear ringings in my ears," Pancamo said. "So after a while, you know that's not supposed to be happening."

A year ago, doctors told Pancamo that he suffered mild hearing loss. Pancamo never thought he would deal with hearing problems in his early 20s, but doctors actually told him he was very fortunate, saying the damage could have been a lot worse and it could've hit him even sooner.

"I've seen teenagers that have come in," says Dr. Rachel Wood, an audiologist with the LSU Health and Sciences Center. Wood studies and treats hearing loss patients. She says that oftentimes, parents aren't properly educated about ways to prevent hearing loss, and because of it, she's seen more
cases in younger patients.

"They notice, yeah I'm not hearing as well," Wood says. "Or when I'm in the cafeteria around my friends, it's hard to understand what they're saying and they notice a difference. I think we're going to see a possible increase in people who have noise exposure, noise induced hearing loss."

Wood is pessimistic about the future because of the growing number of factors that cause hearing loss. Children especially can plug into their phone and crank up the volume, turn up the sound effects on video games, or even watch rock concerts on their computers. Wood says headphones are especially troubling.

There are tiny sensors in your inner ear that are very sensitive. Loud sounds damage those sensors, and if they're destroyed, they will never grow back, which leads to hearing loss. The amount of damage is based on the volume of the sound and how close the sound is to your ear. Since headphones put the sound right next to those sensors, it magnifies the damage.

Sound is measured in units called decibels, and over 100 decibels, usually the maximum level allotted on most phones, is when damage can occur very quickly.

"If you turn those earbuds up to a maximum level, which is usually around 105 decibels is the maximum output for those earbuds," Wood says. "At that decibel level, at 105 decibels, there's a potential for noise damage to occur in less than 15 minutes."

The good news is that hearing loss is 100 percent preventable. Pancamo now wears hearing protection religiously. He was fitted with custom ear plugs that he wears while he practices, performs, or goes to live concerts to watch other musicians.

Dr. Wood has a list of tips to help parents better protect their children. On many electronic devices such as phones, parents can set volume limits to make sure their children can't fully turn it up. They should also set time limits for using headphones. Dr. Wood suggests children take a break every 30 to 60 minutes.

For kids going to events with loud noises such as concerts, hunting trips, or fireworks shows, they can wear simple ear plugs, which sell at most department stores for under $2. Pancamo says making protection a priority now will really help kids out in the long run.

"If I see a young band and they're practicing and none of them are wearing it, I'm like, 'Hey guys, you should really be thinking about it.' It'll happen quick, a lot quicker than they would think."

Copyright 2017 WAFB. All rights reserved.