Hearing loss is commonly considered an older person’s issue – in fact, it’s estimated that nearly 50% of people over 75 suffer from some type of hearing loss. But studies show that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they are losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s entirely preventable.
One study of 479 freshmen across three high schools discovered that 34% of those students showed indications of hearing loss. What could be causing this? Researchers believe that earbuds and headphones linked to mobile devices are contributing to the problem. And the young are not the only ones at risk.
What causes hearing loss in people under 60?
There’s a simple rule regarding earbud volume for teenagers and everyone else – if someone else can hear your music, then the volume is too high. If you listen to sounds above 85dB (around the volume of a vacuum cleaner) for extended periods of time, your hearing can be damaged. Most mobile devices can go well above 105dB. Utilized in this way, 4 minutes is enough to cause damage.
It might seem as if everyone would know this but teenagers frequently have their headphones in for hours at a time. During this time, they’re listening to music, playing games, and watching video. And if current research is to be accepted, this time will only get longer over the next few years. The production of dopamine acts in a similar way to addictive drugs and research has shown that smartphones and other screens can activate dopamine release. Kids’ hearing will suffer as it becomes more difficult to get them to put their screens down.
The risks of hearing loss in young people
Regardless of age, hearing loss obviously creates numerous challenges. Younger people, however, face added issues with regards to academics, after-school activities, and even job prospects. Hearing loss at a young age causes problems with paying attention and comprehending concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. Sports become particularly difficult if you can’t hear coaches and teammates calling plays and giving instructions. Young adults and teenagers entering the workforce can face unnecessary roadblocks caused by hearing loss.
Social problems can also continue as a result of hearing loss. Kids often develop emotional and social issues which can require therapy if they have hearing loss. Mental health problems are prevalent in individuals of all ages who have hearing loss because they frequently feel isolated and experience 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
Using earbuds or headphones for no more than 60 minutes per day and at a volume 60% of max or less (the 60/60 rule) is the first rule to follow. Even at 60%, if others can still hear the music, it needs to be turned down.
You may also want to ditch the earbuds and go with the older style over-the-ear headphones. In comparison to traditional headphones, earbuds put inside of the ear canal can actually produce 5 to 10 extra decibels.
In general, though, do what you can to reduce your child’s exposure to loud sounds during the day. You can’t regulate everything they do while at school or on the bus, so try to make the time they’re at home headphone-free. And if you do believe your child is experiencing hearing loss, you should have them assessed as soon as possible.