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

Hearing loss is generally thought of as an older person’s problem – in fact, it’s estimated that nearly 50% of individuals who have loss of hearing are 75 or older. But new research shows that younger people are at risk for hearing loss – and, alarmingly, they are losing their hearing in spite of the fact that it’s absolutely preventable.

A study of 479 freshmen from three high schools carried out by The National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing revealed that there were indications of hearing loss in 34% of them. Why is this occurring? It’s assumed that it might be the result of headphones and earbuds connected to mobile devices. And younger people aren’t the only ones in danger of this.

What Causes Hearing Loss in People Under 60?

For teenagers and everyone else, there is a basic rule for earbud volume – the volume is too high if others can hear your music. Injury to your hearing can happen when you listen to sounds higher than 85 decibels – which is about the sound of a vacuum cleaner – over a long period of time. A normal mobile device with the volume turned up to the max clocks in at approximately 106 decibels. Your hearing is injured in under 4 minutes in these circumstances.

While this sounds like common sense stuff, the truth is kids spend in excess of two hours each day on 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 increasing every year according to current research. Studies show that dopamine is triggered by smartphones and other devices that have screens, in the brain’s of younger kids, which is exactly what addictive drugs do. It will be increasingly difficult to get screens away from kids, and their hearing may suffer as a result.

The Dangers of Hearing Loss in Young People

Obviously, loss of hearing offers numerous struggles to anyone, regardless of age. Young people, though, have to deal with additional issues concerning after school sports, job prospects, and even academics. The student is put at a disadvantage if they have a difficult time hearing and comprehending concepts during class due to early hearing loss. It also makes participating in sports much more difficult, since so much of sports involves listening to teammates and coaches give instructions and call plays. Early hearing loss can have an adverse effect on confidence also, which puts unneeded roadblocks in the way of teens and young adults who are coming into the workforce.

Social struggles can also persist due to hearing loss. Kids with damaged hearing have a more difficult time connecting with peers, which often results in social and emotional struggles that require therapy. Mental health problems are common in people of all ages who suffer from hearing loss because they typically feel isolated and have depression and anxiety. Mental health therapies and hearing loss treatment often go hand in hand, especially during the important developmental stages experienced by teenagers and kids.

Avoiding Hearing Loss

The first rule to follow is the 60/60 rule – offending devices should be at no more than 60% of their maximum volume for no more than 1 hour a day. If you’re able to hear your kids headphones, even if if the volume is at 60%, you need to tell them to turn the volume down.

You might also want to ditch the earbuds and choose the older style over-the-ear headphones. Traditional headphones can generate almost 10% less volume compared to in-ear models.

Generally, though, do what you can to limit your exposure to loud sounds throughout the day. You can’t control everything, so try and make the time you’re listening to tunes headphone-free. And, you should see us immediately if you think you’re already suffering from loss of hearing.