Hearing loss is commonly 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 studies show that younger individuals are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they’re losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s completely avoidable.
One study of 479 freshmen across three high schools revealed that 34% of those students showed signs of hearing loss. The cause? The idea is that mobile devices with earbuds connected are contributing to the problem. And everyone’s at risk.
Why do individuals under 60 get hearing loss?
There’s a basic rule relating to earbud volume for teenagers and everybody else – if someone else can hear your music, then it’s too loud. If you listen to sounds louder than 85dB (around the volume of a vacuum cleaner) for extended periods of time, your hearing can be damaged. The majority of mobile devices can go well above 105dB. In this scenario, damage starts to take place in under 4 minutes.
While this seems like common sense stuff, the truth is that kids spend well over 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 few years, if we’re to believe present research. Research shows that smartphones and other screens stimulate 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 might suffer because of it.
Young people are at risk of hearing loss
Regardless of age, hearing loss obviously creates a number of difficulties. For younger individuals though, after school activities, sports, and job possibilities produce additional difficulties. Hearing loss at a young age leads to issues with paying attention and comprehending concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. Sports become especially hard if you can’t hear coaches and teammates calling plays and giving instructions. Early hearing loss can have a detrimental effect on confidence as well, which puts unwanted roadblocks in the way of teenagers and young adults who are entering the workforce.
Hearing loss can also cause social issues. Kids often develop emotional and social problems which can require therapy if they have hearing loss. Mental health problems are prevalent in individuals of all ages who have hearing loss because they often feel isolated and experience anxiety and depression. Mental health treatment and hearing loss management often go together and this is especially 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 the sound while sitting near them, you should tell them to lower the volume until you can no longer hear it.
You might also want to ditch the earbuds and go with the older style over-the-ear headphones. Earbuds put directly inside of the ear can actually produce 6 to 9 extra decibels compared to traditional headphones.
In general, though, do what you can to limit your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day. 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 should get a hearing assessment for your child if you think they might already be dealing with hearing loss.