Hearing loss is traditionally considered an older person’s problem – as a matter of fact, it’s estimated that almost 50% of individuals aged 75 and older copes with some kind of hearing loss. But studies show that younger individuals are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they’re losing their hearing despite the fact that it’s completely avoidable.
In fact, 34% of the 479 freshmen who were studied across 4 high schools demonstrated 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.
What causes hearing loss in individuals under 60?
If others can hear your music, it’s too loud and that’s a general rule for teenagers and everyone. Harm 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 normal mobile device with the volume turned all the way up clocks in at about 106 decibels. In this scenario, damage begins to happen in under 4 minutes.
It might seem as if everybody 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 current research is to be believed, this time will only increase over the next several years. Research shows that smartphones and other screens stimulate dopamine production in younger kids’ brains, which is the same reaction caused by addictive drugs. Kids’ hearing will suffer as it becomes more difficult to get them to put down their devices.
The risks of hearing loss in young people
Obviously, hearing loss creates numerous challenges for anybody, regardless of age. For younger individuals though, after school activities, sports, and job prospects produce 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 hard if you can’t hear coaches and teammates calling plays and giving directions. Young adults and teenagers entering the workforce can face unnecessary obstacles due to hearing loss.
Social issues can also continue due to hearing loss. Kids frequently develop emotional and social problems which can require therapy if they have hearing loss. Mental health issues are common in individuals of all ages who cope with hearing loss because they often feel isolated and experience depression and anxiety. Mental health treatment and hearing loss management often go together and this is particularly true with kids and teenagers in their early developmental years.
Preventing 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. If your kids listen to headphones at 60% and you can still hear them while sitting close to them, you should have them turn it down until you can’t hear it.
You may also want to replace the earbuds and go with the older style over-the-ear headphones. In comparison to traditional headphones, earbuds put inside of the ear canal can actually produce 5 to 10 extra decibels.
Generally, though, do what you can to control your child’s exposure to loud sounds during the day. Try to make their home time free of headphone use because you can’t control what they’re doing while they’re not home. And if you do believe your child is experiencing hearing loss, you should have them evaluated as soon as possible.