An estimated 50% of individuals over the age of 75 have some form of hearing loss and that’s why most people think of it as an issue for older people. But research demonstrates that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they’re losing their hearing despite the fact that it’s completely preventable.
One study of 479 freshmen across three high schools revealed that 34% of those students showed indications of hearing loss. The cause? Scientists suspect that earbuds and headphones connected to mobile devices are contributing to the problem. And the young aren’t the only ones at risk.
What causes hearing loss in people under 60?
There’s a basic rule regarding earbud volume for teenagers and everybody else – if someone else can hear your music, then the volume is too high. Damage to your hearing can occur when you listen to sounds above 85 decibels – which is about the volume of a vacuum cleaner – for an extended period of time. A standard mobile device with the volume turned all the way up clocks in at about 106 decibels. Used in this way, 4 minutes is enough to cause damage.
While this seems like common sense stuff, the truth is that kids spend well over two hours every day on their devices, frequently with their earphones or earbuds plugged in. They’re playing games, watching videos, or listening to music during this time. And if the latest research is to be accepted, this time will only increase over the next few years. Studies show that smartphones and other screens trigger dopamine production in younger kids’ brains, which is the same reaction caused by addictive drugs. It will become more and more difficult to get screens away from kids, and their hearing may suffer because of it.
Young people are in danger of hearing loss
Obviously, hearing loss presents multiple challenges for anyone, regardless of age. Younger individuals, however, face added issues with regards to academics, after-school activities, and even job possibilities. Hearing loss at a young age causes issues with paying attention and understanding concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. It also makes participating in sports much more difficult, since so much of sports requires listening to coaches and teammates giving instructions and calling plays. Early hearing loss can have a detrimental effect on confidence as well, which puts unwanted roadblocks in the way of teenagers and young adults who are entering the workforce.
Social problems can also persist due to hearing loss. Kids with damaged hearing have a more difficult time socializing with peers, which often causes social and emotional problems that require therapy. People who cope with hearing loss frequently feel isolated and experience mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Mental health treatment and hearing loss management frequently go together and this is especially true with kids and teenagers in their early developmental years.
Avoiding hearing loss when you’re young
The first rule to observe is the 60/60 rule – devices and earbuds should only be used for 60 minutes a day at 60% or less of the maximum volume. Even at 60%, if others can still hear the music, it needs to be turned down.
It also may be smart to switch back to over-the-ear style headphones and stop using earbuds. Compared to traditional headphones, earbuds placed inside of the ear canal can actually produce 5 to 10 extra decibels.
Whatever you can do to reduce your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day will be helpful. You can’t control everything they do while at school or on the bus, so try to make the time they’re at home headphone-free. And you need to get a hearing test for your child if you believe they may already be suffering from hearing loss.