Stafa, Switzerland — With the new school year beginning, an international study from Hear the World, an initiative by Phonak, shows that noise levels in the classroom have a considerable impact on a child’s physical health and academic performance. The study, which surveyed nearly 500 schoolchildren in the United States, Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom, and Switzerland found that the students reported feeling distracted, irritated, and stressed by high levels of noise during class.

Beyond the potential for premature hearing loss due to continuous exposure to loud noises in the classroom, the study revealed that noise coming from the inside and outside of the class ranked high as a reason why students might be having trouble concentrating (6.5 on a scale of 10). In addition, other negative effects of a loud classroom were feelings of stress (5.4), headaches (5.1), and a growing level of aggression (4.6).

Noise in the classroom often comes from a multitude of sources, which in turn, makes it difficult to control. Beyond outside noise like traffic and construction, inside noise sources include student activity, classroom equipment such as computers and projectors, echo within the room, neighboring classrooms, and ventilation/heating systems.

Although the study found that noise in the classroom is perceived as a nuisance by students, an increasing number of young people are actively exposing their ears to high noise levels in their free time. Although not solely to blame, MP3 players are one reason why the Journal of the American Medical Association recently found that one in five US teens are living with some form of hearing loss.

“Almost every teenager owns an MP3 player and uses it throughout the day at levels of 100dB or above,” said Craig Kasper, AuD, chief audiology officer for Audio Help Associates of Manhattan, in New York. “In addition, teenagers consider hearing loss a phenomenon linked to old age and are not aware that damage to the ears is irreversible, which points to the ever-growing need for education around this issue.”

According to the Hear the World survey, 79% of MP3 users in the United States between 14 to 19 years of age set the volume higher than 50% of the possible volume range, and 51% set the volume to 70% of the possible volume range or higher. Long-term exposure to 80-85 decibels, or any more than 15 minutes exposure to 100 decibels, can lead to hearing loss. Music players such as iPods can top 100 decibels when turned all the way up.

If noise levels within the classroom are not lowered appropriately, or if a hearing loss is left undiagnosed, the potential consequences are often underestimated–significantly impacting not only a student’s academic performance, but also their emotional growth. With an average noise level in the classroom of 60 decibels, children struggle to understand their teachers, whose voice is measured at an average 65 decibels. With such strong background noise, it is challenging for students with and without hearing loss to follow discussions in class. As a result, students soon find their attention slipping and their motivation decreasing.

“Hearing loss develops gradually, and as a result, can often be overlooked by affected children, their parents and teachers,” says Kasper. “Hearing loss isn’t generally considered a possible reason for weaker performance in school. In many cases, lack of focus and motivation in class is wrongfully interpreted as a behavioral issue, when in fact, hearing loss, or difficulty hearing, is actually the root of the problem.”

The good news is that special therapies, hearing aids, and FM systems for better speech understanding can enable the affected students to follow class more easily, improve their performance, and regain their motivation in school.

SOURCE: Hear the World