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 studies show that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they are losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s totally preventable.
As a matter of fact, 34% of the 479 freshmen who were studied across 4 high schools exhibited symptoms of hearing loss. The cause? Researchers suspect that earbuds and headphones linked to mobile devices are contributing to the problem. And the young are not the only ones at risk.
What causes hearing loss in individuals under 60?
There’s a basic rule regarding earbud volume for teenagers and everyone else – if someone else can hear your music, then it’s too loud. If you listen to sounds louder than 85dB (about the volume of a vacuum cleaner) for extended periods of time, your hearing can be damaged. Most mobile devices can go well above 105dB. In this situation, damage begins to happen in under 4 minutes.
It might seem as if everyone would know this but teenagers frequently have their headphones in for hours at a time. During this time, they’re listening to music, playing games, and watching video. And if the latest research is to be accepted, this time will only get longer over the next few years. Research shows that smartphones and other screens activate dopamine production in younger kids’ brains, which is the same reaction caused by addictive drugs. It will become harder and harder to get screens away from kids, and their hearing could suffer because of it.
The risks of hearing loss in young people
Clearly, hearing loss presents multiple obstacles for anyone, regardless of age. For younger people though, after school activities, sports, and job prospects produce additional challenges. Hearing loss at a young age causes 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 requires listening to coaches and teammates giving directions and calling plays. Young adults and teenagers joining the workforce can face unnecessary obstacles caused by hearing loss.
Social problems can also persist as a result of hearing loss. Kids frequently develop emotional and social issues which can require therapy if they have hearing loss. Mental health problems are prevalent in individuals of all ages who cope with hearing loss because they frequently feel isolated and experience depression and anxiety. Managing hearing loss often needs to go hand-in-hand with mental health treatment, particularly 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 per day at 60% or less of the highest volume. 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 stop using earbuds. Earbuds put directly into the ear can actually generate 6 to 9 extra decibels when compared to traditional headphones.
Whatever you can do to limit your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day will be helpful. You can’t regulate everything they do while at school or on the bus, so try to make the time they’re at home headphone-free. And you need to get a hearing assessment for your child if you think they may already be suffering from hearing loss.