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

Hearing loss is typically thought to be an older person’s issue – in fact, it’s estimated that about 50% of people who suffer from loss of hearing are 75 or older. And though it’s often totally avoidable, a new study shows a shocking number of younger people are losing their hearing.

The National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing recently carried out a study of 479 freshmen across three high schools and revealed that 34% of those students showed signs of hearing loss. Why is this happening? It’s believed that it might be the result of earbuds and headphones connected to mobile devices. And the young aren’t the only ones at risk.

What Causes Hearing Loss in People Under 60?

For teenagers and everyone else, there is a basic rule for earbud volume – the volume is too high if other people can hear your music. Injury to your hearing can occur when you listen to noises above 85 decibels – similar to the volume of a vacuum cleaner – over a long period of time. A typical mobile device with the volume turned up to the max registers at around 106 decibels. In this scenario, injury begins to develop in under 4 minutes.

While this sounds like common sense stuff, the truth is kids spend upwards of two hours a day on their devices, and normally they have their earbuds connected. They’re listening to music, playing games, or watching videos during this time. And if current research is correct, this time will only increase over the next few years. Studies reveal that smartphones and other screens trigger dopamine production 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 increasingly hard to get them to put away their screens.

How Much Are Young Kids at Risk of Hearing Loss?

Obviously, hearing loss presents numerous struggles to anybody, regardless of age. Younger people, though, have to deal with additional issues pertaining to after school sports, job prospects, or even academics. Loss of hearing at a young age results in problems with attention span and understanding concepts during class, which disadvantages the student. It also makes participating in sports a lot more challenging, since so much of sports entails listening to teammates and coaches give instructions and call plays. Early hearing loss can have an adverse effect on confidence as well, which puts needless hurdles in the way of teenagers and younger adults who are coming into the workforce.

Loss of hearing can also cause persistent social troubles. Children with compromised hearing have a more difficult time interacting with friends, which typically leads to emotional and social issues that require therapy. People who suffer from loss of hearing can feel separated and have depression and anxiety inevitably resulting in mental health issues. Dealing with hearing loss in many cases must go hand-in-hand with mental health treatment, especially in kids and teenagers during developmental years.

How You Can Avoid Loss of Hearing?

The first rule to adhere to is the 60/60 rule – offending devices should be at no more than 60% of their max volume for no more than 1 hour per day. If your kids listen to headphones at 60% and you can still hear the music while sitting close to them, you should have them turn it down until you can’t hear it anymore.

Also older style over-the-ear headphones may be a better choice than earbuds. Traditional headphones can generate almost 10% less decibels in comparison to in-ear models.

Throughout the day in general, you should do anything you can to reduce your exposure to loud sound. You can’t control everything, so try to make the time you’re listening to music headphone-free. And, you should see us right away if you suspect you are already suffering from loss of hearing.