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Young woman not protecting her hearing in a loud subway.

An estimated 50% of individuals 75 or older have some type of hearing loss and that’s why most people consider it an issue for older people. But studies show that younger individuals are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they are losing their hearing despite the fact that it’s totally avoidable.

In fact, 34% of the 479 freshmen who were studied across 4 high schools demonstrated symptoms of hearing loss. The cause? The concept is that mobile devices with earbuds connected are contributing to the problem. And younger people are not the only ones at risk.

What causes hearing loss in individuals under 60?

There’s a basic rule relating to earbud volume for teenagers and everyone else – if somebody else can hear your music, then the volume is too high. If you listen to sounds louder than 85dB (around the volume of a vacuum cleaner) for extended periods of time, your hearing can be damaged. A typical mobile device with the volume turned up to the max clocks in at around 106 decibels. In this scenario, damage begins to happen in less than 4 minutes.

It may seem as if everybody 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 current research is to be accepted, this time will only get longer over the next few years. Studies show that smartphones and other screens activate dopamine production in younger kids’ brains, which is the same reaction caused by addictive drugs. It will become 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 creates numerous difficulties for anybody, regardless of age. For younger individuals though, after school activities, sports, and job possibilities produce additional challenges. 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 hard if you can’t hear coaches and teammates calling plays and giving directions. Early hearing loss can have a negative effect on confidence as well, which puts unnecessary roadblocks in front of teenagers and young adults who are getting into the workforce.

Hearing loss can also lead to social problems. Kids with damaged hearing have a more difficult time socializing with peers, which frequently leads to social and emotional issues that require therapy. Mental health issues are common in people of all ages who cope with hearing loss because they often feel isolated and experience anxiety and depression. Managing hearing loss often needs to go hand-in-hand with mental health treatment, especially during the crucial developmental stages experienced by kids and teenagers.

Preventing hearing loss when you’re young

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 maximum 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 turn it down until you can no longer hear it.

You may also want to ditch the earbuds and opt for the older style over-the-ear headphones. Compared to traditional headphones, earbuds placed inside of the ear canal can actually produce 5 to 10 extra decibels.

In general, though, do what you can to control your child’s exposure to loud sounds throughout the day. Try to make their home time free of headphone use because you can’t regulate what they’re doing while they’re not home. And you should get a hearing test for your child if you think they may already be dealing with 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.