Hearing loss is traditionally considered an older person’s problem – in fact, it’s estimated that nearly 50% of people over 75 copes with some type of hearing loss. But studies show that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they’re losing their hearing despite the fact that it’s totally preventable.
In fact, 34% of the 479 freshmen who were studied across 4 high schools showed symptoms of hearing loss. The cause? Scientists suspect that earbuds and headphones connected to mobile devices are contributing to the issue. And the young are not the only ones at risk.
What causes hearing loss in individuals under 60?
If others can hear your music, it’s too loud and that’s a general rule for teenagers and everybody. Harm to your hearing can occur when you listen to sounds above 85 decibels – which is about the sound of a vacuum cleaner – for an extended period of time. The majority of mobile devices can go well above 105dB. Used in this way, 4 minutes is enough to cause damage.
While this seems like common sense stuff, the truth is that kids spend upwards of two hours every day on their devices, frequently with their earphones or earbuds plugged in. During this time, they’re listening to music, playing games, and watching video. And this will only increase over the next several 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 response caused by addictive drugs. It will be more and more difficult to get screens away from kids, and their hearing could suffer because of it.
Young people are in danger of hearing loss
Obviously, hearing loss creates several obstacles for anyone, regardless of age. Younger people, however, face additional issues with regards to academics, after-school sports, and even job possibilities. Students with hearing loss face a particularly difficult time hearing and comprehending concepts. It also makes participating in sports much harder, since so much of sports requires listening to coaches and teammates giving directions and calling plays. Early hearing loss can have a detrimental effect on confidence as well, which puts unwanted obstacles in the way of teenagers and young adults who are getting into the workforce.
Social problems can also continue as a result of hearing loss. Kids with damaged hearing have a more difficult time connecting with peers, which often leads to social and emotional problems that require therapy. Mental health issues are prevalent in people of all ages who cope with hearing loss because they often feel isolated and experience anxiety and depression. Treating hearing loss often needs to go hand-in-hand with mental health treatment, particularly during the important developmental stages experienced by kids and teenagers.
Avoiding hearing loss when you’re young
The first rule to follow 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. Even at 60%, if others can still hear the sound, it needs to be turned down.
It also may be smart to switch back to over-the-ear style headphones and stop using earbuds. Earbuds put directly in the ear can actually produce 6 to 9 extra decibels compared to traditional headphones.
In general, though, do what you can to reduce your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day. Try to make their home time free of headphone use because you can’t regulate what they’re doing when they’re not home. And you should get a hearing exam for your child if you think they might already be suffering from hearing loss.