Hearing loss is traditionally considered an older person’s problem – in fact, it’s estimated that nearly 50% of people aged 75 and older suffer from some type of hearing loss. But studies shows that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they are losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s completely preventable.
The National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing conducted a study of 479 freshmen across three high schools and found that 34% of those students showed signs of hearing loss. The cause? It’s thought it’s from earbuds and headphones connected to mobile devices. And the young are not the only ones at risk.
What causes hearing loss in people under 60?
There’s a simple rule regarding earbud volume for teenagers and everyone else – if someone else can hear your music, then it’s too loud. Damage 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. A typical mobile device with the volume turned up to the max clocks in at about 106 decibels. In this scenario, damage starts to occur in less than 4 minutes.
While this sounds like common sense stuff, the reality is that kids spend upwards of two hours a day on their devices, often with their earphones or earbuds plugged in. They’re playing games, watching videos, or listening to music during this time. And if current research is to be believed, this time will only increase over the next few years. 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 be more and more difficult to get screens away from kids, and their hearing may suffer because of it.
The risks of hearing loss in young people
Obviously, hearing loss presents numerous challenges to anyone, regardless of age. Younger people, however, face additional problems regarding academics, after-school sports, and even job prospects. Hearing loss at a young age causes issues 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 give instructions and call plays. Early hearing loss can have a detrimental effect on confidence as well, which puts unnecessary roadblocks in the way of teenagers and young adults who are entering the workforce.
Social problems can also persist due to hearing loss. Kids with damaged hearing have a harder time interacting with peers, which often leads to social and emotional problems that require therapy. Mental health problems are common in people of all ages who suffer from hearing loss because they often feel isolated and experience anxiety and depression. Treating hearing loss often must go hand-in-hand with mental health treatment, especially during the important developmental stages experienced by kids and teenagers.
How young people can avoid hearing loss
The first rule to follow is the 60/60 rule – devices and earbuds should only be used for 60 minutes a 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 close to them, you should have them turn it down until you can no longer hear it.
You may also want to ditch the earbuds and go with the older style over-the-ear headphones. Earbuds placed directly in the ear can actually produce 6 to 9 extra more decibels compared to traditional headphones.
In general, though, do what you can to limit your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day. You can’t control 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 suffering from hearing loss, you should see a hearing specialist right away.