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Young woman not protecting her hearing in a loud subway.

Hearing loss is usually considered an older person’s issue – in fact, it’s estimated that nearly 50% of individuals aged 75 and older suffer from some form of hearing loss. But studies show that younger people 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? The idea is that mobile devices with earbuds connected are contributing to the problem. And the young are not 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 general rule for teenagers and everyone. If you listen to sounds louder than 85dB (about the volume of a vacuum cleaner) for extended time periods, your hearing can be damaged. Most mobile devices can go well above 105dB. In this situation, damage starts to happen in under 4 minutes.

It may seem as if everyone would know this but teenagers often have their headphones in for hours at a time. During this time, they’re listening to music, playing games, and watching video. And if the latest research is to be accepted, this time will only get longer over the next few years. Research shows that smartphones and other screens activate dopamine production in younger kids’ brains, which is the same response caused by addictive drugs. Kids’ hearing will suffer as it becomes more difficult to get them to put their screens down.

The dangers of hearing loss in young people

Clearly, hearing loss presents multiple challenges for anybody, regardless of age. Younger people, however, face added problems regarding academics, after-school sports, and even job possibilities. Students with hearing loss face a really difficult time hearing and comprehending concepts. It also makes participating in sports much more difficult, since so much of sports requires listening to coaches and teammates giving instructions and calling plays. Early hearing loss can have a detrimental impact on confidence as well, which puts unwanted roadblocks in the way of teenagers and young adults who are getting into the workforce.

Social problems can also continue as a result of hearing loss. 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 have 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.

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 observe. If your kids listen to headphones at 60% and you can still hear them while sitting near them, you should have them turn it down until you can’t hear it.

It also may be smart to change back to over-the-ear style headphones and stop using earbuds. Compared to traditional headphones, earbuds placed inside of the ear canal can actually create 5 to 10 extra decibels.

Whatever you can do to minimize your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day will help. 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 if you do think your child is suffering from hearing loss, you should have them assessed as soon as possible.

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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.