An estimated 50% of individuals 75 or over have some level of hearing loss and that’s why most people consider it an issue for older people. But research shows that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they’re losing their hearing despite the fact that it’s entirely avoidable.
One study of 479 freshmen across three high schools revealed that 34% of those students showed symptoms of hearing loss. What could be causing this? The concept is that mobile devices with earbuds connected are contributing to the issue. And younger people are not the only ones at risk.
Why do people under 60 get hearing loss?
There’s a simple rule regarding earbud volume for teenagers and everyone else – if someone 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 periods of time, your hearing can be damaged. Most mobile devices can go well above 105dB. Utilized in this way, 4 minutes is enough to cause damage.
While this sounds like common sense stuff, the truth is that kids spend upwards of two hours a 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 several years, if we’re to believe current research. Research shows that smartphones and other screens stimulate dopamine production in younger kids’ brains, which is the same response caused by addictive drugs. Kids’ hearing will suffer as it becomes harder to get them to put down their devices.
The dangers of hearing loss in young people
Obviously, hearing loss creates multiple difficulties for anybody, regardless of age. For younger people though, after school activities, sports, and job possibilities create 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. It also makes playing sports much more difficult, since so much of sports requires listening to coaches and teammates giving instructions and calling plays. Young adults and teenagers joining the workforce can encounter unnecessary roadblocks caused by hearing loss.
Hearing loss can also result in social problems. Kids often develop emotional and social issues which can require therapy if they have hearing loss. Mental health issues are common in people of all ages who suffer from hearing loss because they often feel isolated and experience anxiety and depression. Mental health treatment and hearing loss management frequently go together and this is particularly true with kids and teenagers in their early developmental years.
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 a day at 60% or less of the maximum volume. Even at 60%, if other people can still hear the sound, it needs to be turned down.
You may also want to replace the earbuds and opt for the older style over-the-ear headphones. Earbuds placed directly inside of the ear can actually produce 6 to 9 extra decibels when compared to traditional headphones.
Generally, though, do what you can to reduce 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 dealing with hearing loss, you should have them evaluated as soon as possible.