Hearing loss is typically considered an older person’s issue – as a matter of fact, it’s estimated that almost 50% of individuals aged 75 and older suffer from some type of hearing loss. But research reveals that younger individuals are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they’re losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s totally preventable.
In fact, 34% of the 479 freshmen who were studied across 4 high schools exhibited symptoms of hearing loss. What could be causing this? Scientists believe that earbuds and headphones linked to mobile devices are contributing to the issue. And younger people aren’t the only ones at risk.
Why do individuals under 60 experience hearing loss?
If other people can hear your music, it’s too loud and that’s a basic rule for teenagers and everyone. Harm to your hearing can happen when you listen to sounds louder than 85 decibels – which is approximately the sound of a vacuum cleaner – for an extended time period. Most mobile devices can go well above 105dB. Used in this way, 4 minutes is enough to cause damage.
It may seem like everyone would know this but teenagers often have their headphones in for hours at a time. They’re playing games, watching videos, or listening to music during this time. And if the latest research is to be believed, this time will only increase over the next several years. The release of dopamine acts in a similar way to addictive drugs and research has demonstrated that smartphones and other screens can activate the release of dopamine. Kids’ hearing will suffer as it becomes harder to get them to put their screens down.
The risks of hearing loss in young people
Clearly, hearing loss presents numerous difficulties for anyone, regardless of age. For younger individuals though, after school activities, sports, and job possibilities produce additional challenges. Students with hearing loss face an especially difficult time hearing and understanding concepts. It also makes participating in sports much harder, since so much of sports requires listening to coaches and teammates giving instructions and calling plays. Young adults and teenagers joining the workforce can face unnecessary roadblocks caused by hearing loss.
Hearing loss can also result in social issues. Kids who have damaged hearing have a more difficult time socializing with peers, which frequently leads to social and emotional issues that require therapy. Individuals who cope with hearing loss often feel isolated and experience mental health issues like anxiety and depression. 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 per day at 60% or less of the highest volume. If your kids listen to headphones at 60% and you can still hear them while sitting close to them, you should have them lower the volume until you can no longer hear it.
You may also want to ditch the earbuds and go with the older style over-the-ear headphones. Compared to traditional headphones, earbuds put inside of the ear canal can actually produce 5 to 10 extra decibels.
Whatever you can do to reduce your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day will be helpful. 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 test for your child if you think they might already be suffering from hearing loss.