NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Hearing loss isn’t just affecting America’s senior community anymore. A new study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week shows it is happening to younger people and affecting teenagers at epidemic rates.

Alexa Curhan had her hearing tested by a professional audiologist. The 17-year-old was worried her hearing may have been affected by constant exposure to noise.

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“I realized how loud even the lunchroom is and when I’m going home listening to my music or if we’re going to concerts or even sports events. Professional sports and even at our school, the sports games are really loud,” said Curhan.

CBS 2’s Dr. Holly Phillips reports hearing loss is a common medical complaint and affects tens of millions of Americans. Even a small amount of hearing loss can change life drastically.

Kids who have trouble hearing can experience problems in school. They may withdraw from social activities and even grow depressed.

“Most classrooms in this country on average will have somebody with hearing impairment and at least, at the very least it should be recognized,” said Dr. Josef Shargorodsky.

Shargorodsky studied data from hearing tests performed on thousands of teens between 1988 and 2006. The study shows a 30 percent increase in hearing loss.

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“About 1 out of 5 adolescents in the United States has at least some evidence of hearing loss and, moreover, about 1 out of 20 has at least mild hearing loss,” said Shargorodsky.

Although the study didn’t identify a specific cause to hearing loss, it showed that high frequency hearing loss was more common than low frequency hearing loss. That high frequency hearing loss is most likely to be caused by noise.

Common sources of damaging noise include loud music in headphones, telephone ear pieces, rock concerts, subways and construction.

Although Curhan’s hearing is good she learned to have a greater appreciation for her hearing.

Curhan had some sound advice: “Once you lose it, it’s not coming back. So just be careful of how much noise exposure you have.”

The study also found that girls were less likely to have hearing loss than boys. People living below the federal poverty threshold had the most loss.

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One of the first signs of noise-related hearing loss is difficulty hearing consonants such as S, F, T and Z even though vowels can be heard normally.