An estimated 50% of people 75 or older 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 individuals are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they are losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s totally avoidable.
One study of 479 freshmen across three high schools found that 34% of those students showed signs of hearing loss. What could be causing this? The thought is that mobile devices with earbuds connected are contributing to the problem. And everyone’s at risk.
What causes hearing loss in people under 60?
If other people can hear your music, it’s too loud and that’s a basic rule for teenagers and everybody. Harm to your hearing can occur when you listen to sounds louder than 85 decibels – which is about the sound of a vacuum cleaner – for an extended time period. Most mobile devices can go well above 105dB. Used in this way, 4 minutes is enough to cause injury.
It may seem like everybody would know this but teenagers often have their headphones in for hours at a time. They’re playing games, watching videos, or listening to music during this time. And this will only increase over the next several years, if we’re to believe present research. Studies show that smartphones and other screens activate dopamine production in younger kids’ brains, which is the same response caused by addictive drugs. It will be more and more difficult to get screens away from kids, and their hearing may suffer because of it.
The dangers of hearing loss in young people
Clearly, hearing loss presents numerous challenges for anybody, regardless of age. For younger people though, after school activities, sports, and job possibilities produce additional difficulties. Hearing loss at a young age causes problems with paying attention and understanding concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. It also makes playing sports much more difficult, since so much of sports involves listening to coaches and teammates giving instructions and calling plays. Young adults and teenagers entering the workforce can experience unnecessary roadblocks due to hearing loss.
Social problems can also continue due to hearing loss. Kids frequently develop emotional and social issues which can require therapy if they have hearing loss. Individuals who suffer with hearing loss frequently feel isolated and experience mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Managing hearing loss often must go hand-in-hand with mental health treatment, especially during the important developmental stages experienced by kids and teenagers.
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 maximum or less (the 60/60 rule) is the first rule to adhere to. If your kids listen to headphones at 60% and you can still hear the sound while sitting close to them, you should have them lower the volume until you can no longer hear it.
You might also want to ditch the earbuds and go with the older style over-the-ear headphones. Compared to traditional headphones, earbuds placed inside of the ear canal can actually create 5 to 10 extra decibels.
In general, though, do what you can to control your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day. You can’t control everything they do while at school or on the bus, so try to make the time they’re at home free of headphones. And if you do suspect your child is experiencing hearing loss, you should have them evaluated as soon as possible.