Young woman not protecting her hearing in a loud subway.

Hearing loss is usually considered an older person’s problem – in fact, it’s estimated that nearly 50% of people over 75 suffer from some kind of hearing loss. But studies show that younger individuals are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they’re losing their hearing despite the fact that it’s entirely avoidable.

As a matter of fact, 34% of the 479 freshmen who were studied across 4 high schools showed signs of hearing loss. The cause? The idea is that mobile devices with earbuds connected are contributing to the issue. And younger people are not the only ones at risk.

Why do people 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 the volume is too high. Damage to your hearing can happen when you listen to sounds louder than 85 decibels – which is about the volume of a vacuum cleaner – for an extended time period. A standard mobile device with the volume turned up to the max clocks in at about 106 decibels. Utilized in this way, 4 minutes is enough to cause injury.

While this sounds like common sense stuff, the reality is that kids spend upwards of two hours every 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 few years, if we’re to believe current research. The production of dopamine acts in a similar way to addictive drugs and studies have revealed 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 might suffer because of it.

The dangers of hearing loss in young people

Clearly, hearing loss presents several difficulties for anybody, regardless of age. For younger people though, after school activities, sports, and job possibilities create additional challenges. Hearing loss at a young age causes issues with paying attention and understanding concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. It also makes playing sports much harder, since so much of sports involves listening to coaches and teammates giving instructions and calling plays. Early hearing loss can have a negative effect on confidence as well, which puts unnecessary obstacles in front of teenagers and young adults who are entering the workforce.

Hearing loss can also result in social problems. Kids often develop emotional and social problems which can require therapy if they have hearing loss. Mental health issues are common in people of all ages who suffer from hearing loss because they frequently 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

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 adhere to. If your kids listen to headphones at 60% and you can still hear them while sitting near them, you should tell them to lower the volume until you can no longer hear it.

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

Generally, 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 free of headphones. And you need to get a hearing assessment for your child if you think they might already be suffering from hearing loss.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.