Man on bus wearing headphones unaware he is causing hearing loss with prolonged exposure.

Traditionally, hearing loss is thought of as a problem only impacting older people – as a matter of fact, it’s estimated that around 50% of individuals who suffer from loss of hearing are 75 or older. But a new study shows that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they are losing their hearing even though it’s completely preventable.

The National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing recently carried out a study of 479 freshmen across three high schools and revealed that 34% of those freshmen showed signs of hearing loss. Why is this happening? It’s assumed that it could be from headphones and earbuds connected to mobile devices. And older individuals are also susceptible.

What Causes Hearing Loss in People Under 60?

For teenagers and everyone else, there is a simple rule for earbud volume – it’s too loud if other people can hear your music. Your hearing can be damaged when you listen to sounds higher than 85 decibels – about the volume of a vacuum cleaner – for an extended time period. A typical mobile device with the volume cranked up all the way registers at about 106 decibels. Your hearing is damaged in less than 4 minutes in these situations.

Though this sounds like common sense stuff, the truth is kids spend upwards of two hours a day using their devices, and usually they have their earbuds plugged in. During this time they’re listening to music, watching videos, or playing games. And this time is getting longer every year according to current research. Studies show that dopamine is activated by smartphones and other devices with screens, in younger kids’ brains, which is the same reaction triggered by addictive drugs. Kids loss of hearing will continue to increase because it will be more and more hard to get them to put away their screens.

The Dangers of Hearing Loss in Young People

Obviously, loss of hearing presents several difficulties to anyone, irrespective of the age. Younger people, though, have to deal with additional issues pertaining to after school sports, job prospects, or even academics. Hearing loss at a young age leads to issues with attention span and understanding concepts during class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. It also makes playing sports much more difficult, since so much of sports includes listening to coaches and teammates give instructions and call plays. Early loss of hearing can have a detrimental effect on confidence too, which puts needless hurdles in the way of teenagers and young adults who are entering the workforce.

Hearing loss can also result in persistent social problems. Children whose hearing is impaired often wind up needing therapy because they have a more difficult time with their friends due to loss of hearing. People who have loss of hearing can feel separated and have anxiety and depression inevitably leading to mental health concerns. Mental health therapies and hearing loss management often go hand in hand, particularly during the important formative periods experienced by teenagers and kids.

Preventing Hearing Loss

The first rule to adhere to is the 60/60 rule – offending devices should be at less than 60% of their maximum volume for no more than 1 hour every day. If you can hear your kids headphones, even if if the volume is at 60%, you need to ask them to turn the volume down.

Also older style over-the-ear headphones may be a better choice than earbuds. Earbuds, placed directly in the ear can actually generate 6 to 9 extra decibels in comparison to traditional headphones.

Generally, though, do everything you can to minimize your exposure to loud sounds throughout the day. If you try to listen to your music without headphones, that is one of the few things you can keep have control of. And, you should see us right away if you think you’re already suffering from loss of hearing.

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