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

Hearing loss is generally thought to be 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 totally preventable.

The National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing recently conducted research on 479 freshmen spanning three high schools and found that there were signs of hearing loss in 34% of them. Why is this happening? Mobile devices with headphones or earbuds connected are believed to be the culprit. And the young are not the only ones at risk.

In People Who Are Under 60, What Causes Loss of Hearing?

There’s a simple rule concerning earbud volume for teenagers and everybody else – the volume is too high if others can hear your music. Your hearing can be damaged when you listen to noises higher than 85 decibels – which is about the volume of a vacuum cleaner – for a prolonged time period. A typical mobile device with the volume turned up to the max registers at around 106 decibels. Your hearing is injured in under 4 minutes in these situations.

Although this sounds like common sense stuff, in reality kids spend in excess of two hours a day using their devices, often with their earphones or earbuds plugged in. They’re listening to music, playing games, or watching videos during this time. And if current research is to be believed, this time will only increase over the next few years. Studies demonstrate that dopamine is triggered by smartphones and other devices with screens, in younger kids’ brains, which is the same response triggered by addictive drugs. It will be increasingly difficult to get screens away from kids, and their hearing could suffer because of it.

How Much Are Young People in Danger of Hearing Loss?

Regardless of age, it’s obvious that hearing loss presents countless challenges. But there are additional issues for young people concerning job prospects, after school sports, or even academics. Loss of hearing at a young age leads to problems with attention span and understanding information in class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. It also makes playing sports much more challenging, since so much of sports entails listening to coaches and teammates give instructions and call plays. Teenagers and young adults who are entering the workforce will have unneeded hurdles if their loss of hearing has a negative impact on their self-esteem.

Social troubles can also persist due to loss of hearing. Children with impaired hearing often end up needing therapy because they have a more difficult time with their friends due to loss of hearing. People who suffer from hearing loss can feel separated and have depression and anxiety inevitably leading to mental health concerns. Managing hearing loss in many cases must go hand-in-hand with mental health treatment, particularly during the important developmental stages experienced by kids and teenagers.

Avoiding Hearing Loss

The first rule to follow is the 60/60 rule – devices and earbuds should only be used for 60 minutes per day at a maximum volume of 69%. If your children listen to headphones at 60% and you can still hear the music while sitting close to them, you should have them turn it down until you can’t hear it anymore.

Also older style over-the-ear headphones might be a better choice than earbuds. Conventional headphones can generate almost 10% less volume compared to in-ear models.

Generally, though, do whatever you can to reduce 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. If you do think you’re suffering from hearing loss, you need to see us right away.