This summer I worked with Dr. Gloria Eyicel Valencia, an audiologist, to create a study that focused on the perceived hearing of teenagers, and the effect wearing facial masks has on hearing. Together, through online meetings, we created a survey to gather data on local students.
When evaluating published surveys that focus on attitudes toward sound, most of the participants are between the ages of 20-69. And although there are about 26 million people in that age group who suffer from some sort of hearing loss, about 12.5% of children aged 6-19 also experience hearing loss. The focus on adults is most likely because the mild or moderate hearing loss typically experienced in children is easily overlooked. Many teens remain undiagnosed during childhood and experience consequences, such as trouble listening in loud environments and problems with speech, later in life. These consequences are why we need to pay more attention to teens in the field of audiology.
Our second objective in this project was to observe the effect that wearing facial masks have had on hearing throughout the pandemic. With the push to wear facial masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19, some people have discovered that they have hearing loss and rely on things like lip reading and facial expressions to fully understand others. While masks are very important for ensuring the health of the general public during the pandemic, for many they have uncovered hearing issues, making it extremely difficult to communicate. This discovery has been primarily in older people, but what we wanted to determine is if teens felt the same way. I’ve had quite a few discussions with friends who have voiced their opinions on how facial masks impact hearing. The first is that the masks have made it harder for them to have clear conversations and even negatively impacted their ability to focus in a classroom setting. For others, it has been the opposite, with their experience being that masks actually force them to pay more attention and increase their focus in various scenarios. With this data, we will be able to learn more about the teenage student experience with hearing and hopefully shed light on a topic that was overlooked.
The process of creating this survey was not as simple as I thought it was going to be. It required the approval of the high school level Institutional Review Board at The Summit since it was going to be taken online by students. For the IRB review, I wrote a research proposal that contained information explaining the reasoning and purpose for this study. I read various articles discussing the effects of hearing loss in children, the attitudes of teenagers towards sound in their daily lives, and a few on the hearing loss that masks have uncovered to form a detailed background section of the proposal. I developed about four different hypotheses that I wanted to test with the collected data. The survey questions were selected to address these hypotheses. Additionally, a parent consent form was written since a parent or guardian must give their child permission to take online surveys. Once the proposal, survey and consent forms were complete, it was sent off to the IRB. After approval, the next challenging step occurred: recruiting participants. It took about two months to gain over 120 responses including both online submissions and paper copies. The process of data analysis is currently being conducted and the results of the analysis will help determine the next steps of understanding teen hearing perception.
This experience was one that was extremely new to me but was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Dr. Valencia was an amazing person to work with and she made the whole process exciting which only made me more excited to work. Dr. Replogle also played a giant role in helping me through this experience by guiding me through the difficult steps and easing the my stress. Because of the help that they gave me, I have created a wonderful research project, that will hopefully cause more teens to take a deeper look into their hearing. My love for science and research has only grown through this experience, and I hope to participate in future research in the future.
Aubrey Jones is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.