Hearing loss is normally considered an older person’s problem – in fact, it’s estimated that nearly 50% of people over 75 copes with some type of hearing loss. But in spite of the fact that in younger individuals it’s totally preventable, studies show that they too are at risk of developing hearing loss.
One study of 479 freshmen from three high schools found that 34% of those students showed symptoms of hearing loss. The cause? Scientists suspect that earbuds and headphones linked to mobile devices are contributing to the issue. And the young are not the only ones at risk.
What causes hearing loss in people under 60?
There’s a simple rule regarding earbud volume for teenagers and everybody else – if somebody else can hear your music, then it’s too loud. If you listen to sounds above 85dB (about the volume of a vacuum cleaner) for extended periods of time, your hearing can be damaged. A normal mobile device with the volume turned up to the max is around 106 decibels. 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 accepted, this time will only get longer over the next few years. The release of dopamine acts in a similar way to addictive drugs and research has demonstrated that smartphones and other screens can stimulate dopamine release. It will be 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
Clearly, hearing loss presents several obstacles for anybody, regardless of age. For younger people though, after school activities, sports, and job prospects create additional challenges. Students with hearing loss face an especially difficult time hearing and understanding concepts. Sports become particularly hard if you can’t hear coaches and teammates calling plays and giving directions. Early hearing loss can have a negative impact on confidence as well, which puts unnecessary roadblocks in the way of teenagers and young adults who are entering the workforce.
Hearing loss can also lead to social problems. Kids who have damaged hearing have a more difficult time socializing with peers, which frequently causes social and emotional issues that require therapy. Mental health issues are prevalent in people of all ages who cope with hearing loss because they often feel isolated and experience depression and anxiety. Managing hearing loss often must go hand-in-hand with mental health treatment, particularly during the important developmental stages experienced by kids and teenagers.
Avoiding hearing loss when you’re young
Using earbuds or headphones for no more than 60 minutes per day and at a volume 60% of maximum or less (the 60/60 rule) is the first rule to follow. 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’t hear it.
You might also want to ditch the earbuds and opt for the older style over-the-ear headphones. Earbuds placed directly into the ear can actually produce 6 to 9 extra decibels when compared to traditional headphones.
Whatever you can do to minimize 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 if you do suspect your child is dealing with hearing loss, you should have them evaluated right away.