Hearing loss is usually considered an older person’s problem – in fact, it’s estimated that almost 50% of individuals aged 75 and older copes with some type of hearing loss. But in spite of the fact that in younger people it’s entirely preventable, studies show that they too are at risk of developing hearing loss.
In fact, 34% of the 479 freshmen who were studied across 4 high schools exhibited signs of hearing loss. What could be causing this? The idea is that mobile devices with earbuds connected are contributing to the problem. And younger people aren’t 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 somebody else can hear your music, then the volume is too high. If you listen to sounds above 85dB (around the volume of a vacuum cleaner) for extended time periods, your hearing can be damaged. A normal mobile device with the volume turned up to the max is about 106 decibels. In this scenario, damage begins to happen 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 footage, or listening to music during this time. And if current research is to be believed, this time will only get longer 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
Regardless of age, hearing loss obviously presents a number of challenges. For younger people though, after school activities, sports, and job prospects create additional challenges. Hearing loss at a young age causes issues with paying attention and understanding concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. Sports become particularly difficult if you can’t hear coaches and teammates calling plays and giving instructions. Young adults and teenagers entering the workforce can experience unnecessary roadblocks due to hearing loss.
Hearing loss can also cause social issues. Kids with damaged hearing have a more difficult time socializing with peers, which frequently leads to social and emotional problems that require therapy. Mental health problems are common in people of all ages who cope with hearing loss because they frequently feel isolated and experience depression and anxiety. 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
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 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. Compared to traditional headphones, earbuds put inside of the ear canal can actually create 5 to 10 extra decibels.
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 assessment for your child if you believe they may already be dealing with hearing loss.