Man on bus wearing headphones unaware he is causing hearing loss with prolonged exposure.

Typically, hearing loss is thought of as an issue only impacting older people – in fact, it’s estimated that about 50% of individuals aged 75 and older suffer from some form of hearing loss. But a new study shows that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they are losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s totally avoidable.

The National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing recently carried out a study of 479 freshmen across three high schools and discovered that there were signs of hearing loss in 34% of them. The cause? Mobile devices with headphones or earbuds connected are suspected to be the primary cause. And the young are not the only ones at risk.

What Causes Hearing Loss in People Under 60?

There’s a very simple rule regarding earbud volume for teenagers and everyone else – the volume is too high if other people can hear your music. Injury to your hearing can happen when you listen to sounds higher than 85 decibels – similar to the volume of a vacuum cleaner – for a prolonged period of time. A typical mobile device with the volume cranked up to the max clocks in at about 106 decibels. In this scenario, damage starts to occur in less than 4 minutes.

While you would think that this stuff would be common sense, the reality is kids spend upwards of two hours a day using their devices, and usually they have their earbuds connected. During this time they’re listening to music, watching videos, or playing games. And this time is increasing every year according to current research. Studies reveal that dopamine is triggered by smartphones and other devices that have screens, in the brain’s of younger kids, which is literally what addictive drugs do. Kids loss of hearing will continue to increase because it will be more and more hard to get them to put their screens down.

The Challenges of Hearing Loss in Young People

Obviously, hearing loss offers many difficulties to anybody, no matter what the age. But there are additional problems for young people concerning after school sports, job prospects, or even academics. Hearing loss at a young age leads to problems with paying attention and understanding information in class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. It also makes playing sports much more challenging, since so much of sports includes listening to teammates and coaches give instructions and call plays. Teenagers and young adults who are going into the workforce will have unneeded challenges if their hearing loss has a negative effect on their confidence.

Social troubles can also continue because of hearing loss. Kids with compromised hearing often end up needing therapy because they have a harder time with their peers because of loss of hearing. People who suffer from loss of hearing can feel isolated and have depression and anxiety inevitably resulting in mental health problems. Managing hearing loss often must go hand-in-hand with mental health therapy, particularly during the significant developmental periods experienced by teenagers and kids.

Avoiding Hearing Loss

The first rule to adhere to is the 60/60 rule – devices and earbuds should only be used for 1 hour a day at 60% or less of the maximum volume. If you can hear your kids music, even if they are at 60%, you need to tell them to turn down the volume.

You may also want to say goodbye to the earbuds and choose the older style over-the-ear headphones. Earbuds, which are put directly in the ear, can actually generate 6 to 9 extra decibels in comparison to traditional headphones.

In general, though, do everything you can to limit your exposure to loud noises throughout the day. If you try to listen to your tunes without headphones, that is one of the few things you can control. If you do believe you’re dealing with loss of hearing, you need to see us as soon as possible.

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