Hearing loss is usually considered an older person’s issue – in fact, it’s estimated that almost 50% of people aged 75 and older copes with some form of hearing loss. But studies show that younger individuals are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they are losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s entirely avoidable.
In fact, 34% of the 479 freshmen who were studied across 4 high schools demonstrated signs of hearing loss. What could be causing this? Scientists suspect that earbuds and headphones connected to mobile devices are contributing to the problem. And everyone’s at risk.
What causes hearing loss in individuals under 60?
There’s a basic rule relating to earbud volume for teenagers and everyone else – if somebody else can hear your music, then it’s too loud. 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. In this situation, damage begins to occur in under 4 minutes.
While this seems like common sense stuff, the truth is that kids spend upwards of two hours every day on their devices, often with their earphones or earbuds in. They’re playing games, watching videos, or listening to music during this time. And if the latest research is to be accepted, this time will only get longer over the next few years. The production of dopamine acts in a similar way to addictive drugs and research has shown that smartphones and other screens can trigger dopamine release. It will become 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 difficulties. Younger people, however, face added problems regarding academics, after-school activities, and even job prospects. Students with hearing loss face a particularly difficult time hearing and understanding concepts. It also makes playing sports much harder, since so much of sports requires listening to coaches and teammates giving directions and calling plays. Early hearing loss can have a negative effect on confidence as well, which puts unnecessary obstacles in the way of teenagers and young adults who are getting into the workforce.
Social issues can also persist as a result of hearing loss. Kids who have damaged hearing have a harder time interacting with peers, which frequently causes social and emotional issues that require therapy. Mental health problems are prevalent in individuals of all ages who suffer from hearing loss because they frequently feel isolated and experience anxiety and depression. Mental health treatment and hearing loss management frequently go together and this is especially true with kids and teenagers in their early developmental years.
Preventing hearing loss when you’re young
Using earbuds or headphones for no more than 60 minutes a day and at a volume 60% of max or less (the 60/60 rule) is the first rule to follow. 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 quit using earbuds. Compared to traditional headphones, earbuds put inside of the ear canal can actually produce 5 to 10 extra decibels.
In general, though, do what you can to limit your child’s exposure to loud sounds during the day. You can’t regulate everything they do during school or on the bus, so try to make the time they’re at home headphone-free. And you should get a hearing exam for your child if you think they may already be dealing with hearing loss.