Young woman not protecting her hearing in a loud subway.

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 suffer from some type of hearing loss. But despite the fact that in younger people it’s completely preventable, studies show that they too are at risk of experiencing hearing loss.

One study of 479 freshmen from three high schools revealed that 34% of those students showed symptoms of hearing loss. The cause? The thought is that mobile devices with earbuds connected are contributing to the problem. And younger people aren’t the only ones at risk.

What causes hearing loss in individuals under 60?

There’s a simple rule relating to earbud volume for teenagers and everybody else – if somebody else can hear your music, then the volume is too high. Damage 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 time period. A standard mobile device with the volume turned up to the max is about 106 decibels. Utilized in this way, 4 minutes is enough to cause damage.

While this sounds like common sense stuff, the truth is that kids spend upwards of two hours a day on their devices, frequently with their earphones or earbuds plugged in. During this time, they’re listening to music, playing games, and watching video. And this will only increase over the next several years, if we’re to believe current research. The release of dopamine acts in a similar way to addictive drugs and studies have demonstrated that smartphones and other screens can activate dopamine release. It will be more and more difficult to get screens away from kids, and their hearing could suffer because of it.

The risks of hearing loss in young people

Clearly, hearing loss presents several difficulties for anyone, regardless of age. For younger people though, after school activities, sports, and job possibilities create additional difficulties. Hearing loss at a young age leads to problems with paying attention and understanding concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. Sports become particularly difficult if you can’t hear coaches and teammates calling plays and giving instructions. Young adults and teenagers entering the workforce can experience unnecessary roadblocks due to 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 problems that require therapy. Mental health problems are prevalent in people 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.

How young people can avoid hearing loss

The first rule to observe 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 tell them to lower the volume until you can no longer hear it.

It also might be smart to switch back to over-the-ear style headphones and stop using earbuds. Earbuds placed directly in the ear can actually generate 6 to 9 extra decibels when compared to traditional headphones.

Whatever you can do to limit your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day will help. Try to make their home time free of headphone use because you can’t control what they are doing while they’re not home. And if you do believe your child is dealing with hearing loss, you should have them assessed right away.

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