- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006


Black adults hear better than white adults, according to a government study that also found that women hear better than men.

The study found that overall, hearing in the United States is about the same as it was 35 years ago, despite the advent of ear-blasting devices such as the Walkman and the IPod.

Previous research reached similar findings about racial and sex differences, but the new study by scientists with the federal National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health was the largest national sample to report such a finding.

The racial difference may be related to melanin, a skin pigment. Some scientists think the larger amounts of melanin in black people protect them from noise-induced hearing loss as the years go by, study researcher William Murphy said. Scientists suspect melanin plays a role in how the body removes harmful chemical compounds caused by damage to the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear.

Genetics or the amount of noise exposure may explain the difference between women and men, said Elliott Berger, an Indianapolis-based hearing-protection specialist.

“Boys have typically done noisier activities,” he said.

The conclusion that the nation’s overall hearing has not changed since the early 1970s seems to contradict other recent research finding that modern teenagers do not hear as well as children did in the age before mobile listening devices, Mr. Berger said.

The study looked at more than 5,000 people who had hearing tests from 1999 through 2004 as part of a comprehensive, annual federal health survey. The hearing test involves wearing headphones and pressing a button when a tone is heard.

On average, the 1,077 non-Hispanic blacks in the study could hear higher tones at 15 to 22 decibels, the study found. The 1,245 Mexican Americans could hear high-end tones at 16 to 25 decibels, on average. The 2,518 non-Hispanic whites could hear high-end tones at 21 to 32 decibels, Mr. Murphy said. Women, on average, were more sensitive to higher frequency tones. They could hear higher tones at 11 to 22 decibels, compared with 19 to 32 decibels for men.

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