Hearing loss is normally considered an older person’s issue – in fact, it’s estimated that almost 50% of people over 75 copes with some kind 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 found that 34% of those students showed signs of hearing loss. The cause? Scientists believe that earbuds and headphones linked to mobile devices are contributing to the issue. And younger people are not the only ones at risk.
Why do people under 60 experience hearing loss?
If others can hear your music, it’s too loud and that’s a general rule for teenagers and everybody. If you listen to sounds above 85dB (about the volume of a vacuum cleaner) for extended time periods, your hearing can be damaged. A typical mobile device with the volume turned all the way up clocks in at about 106 decibels. In this situation, damage begins to happen in under 4 minutes.
While this seems like common sense stuff, the truth is that kids spend well over two hours every day on their devices, frequently with their earphones or earbuds plugged in. They’re playing games, watching videos, or listening to music during this time. And this will only increase over the next few years, if we’re to believe current research. Studies show that smartphones and other screens activate dopamine production in younger kids’ brains, which is the same reaction caused by addictive drugs. It will become harder and harder to get screens away from kids, and their hearing could suffer because of it.
The dangers of hearing loss in young people
Regardless of age, hearing loss clearly presents a number of obstacles. For younger people though, after school activities, sports, and job prospects produce additional difficulties. Hearing loss at a young age leads to issues with paying attention and understanding concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. Sports become particularly challenging if you can’t hear coaches and teammates calling plays and giving directions. Young adults and teenagers entering the workforce can experience unnecessary roadblocks due to hearing loss.
Social issues can also persist as a result of hearing loss. Kids with damaged hearing have a more difficult time connecting with peers, which frequently leads to social and emotional issues that require therapy. People who cope with hearing loss often feel isolated and experience mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Mental health treatment and hearing loss management often go together and this is especially true with kids and teenagers in their early developmental years.
How young people can prevent hearing loss
The first rule to observe is the 60/60 rule – devices and earbuds should only be used for 60 minutes per day at 60% or less of the maximum volume. If your kids listen to headphones at 60% and you can still hear the sound while sitting near them, you should have them lower the volume until you can no longer hear it.
You may also want to ditch the earbuds and opt for the older style over-the-ear headphones. Compared to traditional headphones, earbuds put inside of the ear canal can actually create 5 to 10 extra decibels.
Whatever you can do to reduce your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day will be helpful. Try to make their home time free of headphone use because you can’t regulate what they’re doing while they’re not home. And you need to get a hearing test for your child if you believe they might already be dealing with hearing loss.