An Estimation of the Whole-of-Life Noise Exposure of Adolescent and Young Adult Australians with Hearing Impairment

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Abstract

Background:

Since amplified music gained widespread popularity, there has been community concern that leisure-noise exposure may cause hearing loss in adolescents and young adults who would otherwise be free from hearing impairment. Repeated exposure to personal stereo players and music events (e.g., nightclubbing, rock concerts, and music festivals) are of particular concern. The same attention has not been paid to leisure-noise exposure risks for young people with hearing impairment (either present from birth or acquired before adulthood). This article reports on the analysis of a subset of data (leisure participation measures) collected during a large, two-phase study of the hearing health, attitudes, and behaviors of 11- to 35-yr-old Australians conducted by the National Acoustic Laboratories (n = 1,667 hearing threshold level datasets analyzed). The overall aim of the two-phase study was to determine whether a relationship between leisure-noise exposure and hearing loss exists.

Purpose:

In the current study, the leisure activity profiles and accumulated (“whole-of-life”) noise exposures of young people with (1) hearing impairment and (2) with normal hearing were compared.

Research Design:

Cross-sectional cohort study.

Study Sample:

Hearing impaired (HI) group, n = 125; normal (nonimpaired) hearing (NH) group, n = 296, analyzed in two age-based subsets: adolescents (13- to 17-yr-olds) and young adults (18- to 24-yr-olds).

Data Collection and Analysis:

Participant survey. The χ2 test was used to identify systematic differences between the leisure profiles and exposure estimates of the HI and NH groups. Whole-of-life noise exposure was estimated by adapting techniques described in ISO 1999.

Results:

For adolescents, leisure profiles were similar for the two groups and few individuals exceeded the stated risk criterion. For young adults, participation was significantly lower for the HI group for 7 out of 18 leisure activities surveyed. Activity diversity and whole-of-life exposure were also significantly lower for the HI group young adults. A substantial number of individuals in both groups reported participation in leisure activities known to involve high noise levels (HI < NH). The individual whole-of-life exposures for the HI and NH participants were estimated and group median exposures were calculated. The median exposure for HI group young adults was significantly lower than that for the NH group (710 versus 1,615 Pa2 h [Pascal squared hours]).

Conclusions:

The number of young adults with estimated exposure above the chosen noise-risk criterion in the NH group is concerning. With respect to the goals of hearing loss prevention initiatives, the more conservative social behavior (e.g., less nightclubbing) observed among HI group young adults may be regarded as a positive finding, but it could also signify relative social disadvantage for some young adults with hearing impairment.

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