An estimated 50% of individuals over the age of 75 have some level of hearing loss and that’s why most people consider it a problem for older people. But research reveals that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they’re losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s completely preventable.
One study of 479 freshmen from three high schools found that 34% of those students showed symptoms of hearing loss. What could be causing this? Scientists believe that earbuds and headphones connected to mobile devices are contributing to the problem. And everyone’s at risk.
What causes hearing loss in individuals under 60?
There’s a basic rule relating to 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 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.
While this sounds like common sense stuff, the reality is that kids spend upwards of two hours a day on their devices, frequently with their earphones or earbuds in. They’re playing games, watching footage, or listening to music during this time. And if current research is to be accepted, this time will only increase over the next several years. The release of dopamine acts in a similar way to addictive drugs and studies have shown that smartphones and other screens can stimulate the release of dopamine. Kids’ hearing will suffer as it becomes more challenging to get them to put down their devices.
The dangers of hearing loss in young people
Obviously, hearing loss presents several difficulties for anybody, regardless of age. For younger individuals though, after school activities, sports, and job possibilities create additional difficulties. Hearing loss at a young age leads to problems with paying attention and comprehending 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 encounter unnecessary obstacles caused by hearing loss.
Social issues can also persist due to hearing loss. Kids with damaged hearing have a harder time socializing with peers, which often causes social and emotional problems that require therapy. Mental health problems are prevalent in people of all ages who have hearing loss because they frequently feel isolated and experience 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 avoid hearing loss
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. Even at 60%, if other people can still hear the music, it needs to be turned down.
It also might be smart to switch back to over-the-ear style headphones and quit using earbuds. Earbuds put directly in the ear can actually produce 6 to 9 extra decibels compared to traditional headphones.
Whatever you can do to limit 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 you should get a hearing assessment for your child if you believe they might already be suffering from hearing loss.