An estimated 50% of people over the age of 75 have some form of hearing loss and that’s why most people think of it as a problem for older people. But research reveals that younger individuals are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they’re losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s totally avoidable.
One study of 479 freshmen from three high schools found that 34% of those students showed indications of hearing loss. The cause? Scientists suspect 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 individuals under 60?
There’s a basic rule regarding earbud volume for teenagers and everyone else – if someone else can hear your music, then the volume is too high. Harm to your hearing can happen when you listen to sounds above 85 decibels – which is about the sound of a vacuum cleaner – for an extended period of time. A standard mobile device with the volume turned all the way up is about 106 decibels. Used in this way, 4 minutes is enough to cause injury.
It may seem as if everyone would know this but teenagers frequently have their headphones in for hours at a time. During this time, they’re enjoying music, playing games, and watching video. And this will only increase over the next several years, if we’re to believe present research. The release of dopamine acts in a similar way to addictive drugs and studies have revealed that smartphones and other screens can activate the release of dopamine. It will become more and more difficult to get screens away from kids, and their hearing could suffer because of it.
The dangers of hearing loss in young people
Clearly, hearing loss presents multiple challenges for anyone, regardless of age. For younger people though, after school activities, sports, and job possibilities produce additional challenges. Hearing loss at a young age causes problems with paying attention and understanding concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. Sports become especially hard if you can’t hear coaches and teammates calling plays and giving instructions. Early hearing loss can have a negative effect on confidence as well, which puts unnecessary obstacles in front of teenagers and young adults who are entering the workforce.
Social issues can also continue as a result of hearing loss. Kids frequently develop emotional and social issues which can require therapy if they have hearing loss. Individuals who cope with hearing loss frequently feel isolated and experience mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Treating hearing loss often must go hand-in-hand with mental health treatment, especially during the important developmental stages experienced by kids and teenagers.
Preventing 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 observe. If your kids listen to headphones at 60% and you can still hear the sound while sitting near them, you should tell them to turn it down until you can’t hear it.
You might also want to ditch the earbuds and go with the older style over-the-ear headphones. In comparison 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 help. You can’t regulate everything they do during school or on the bus, so try to make the time they’re at home headphone-free. And if you do suspect your child is dealing with hearing loss, you should have them examined right away.