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

Typically, hearing loss is thought of as a problem only impacting older people – as a matter of fact, it’s estimated that around 50% of people who have 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 absolutely preventable.

A study of 479 freshmen from three high schools carried out by The National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing found that there were signs of hearing loss in 34% of them. Why is this happening? Mobile devices with earbuds or headphones connected are believed to be the culprit. And older individuals are also at risk.

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

For teenagers and everybody else, there is a simple rule for earbud volume – if others can hear your music, then the volume is too high. Damage to your hearing can develop when you listen to sounds higher than 85 decibels – which is approximately the volume of a vacuum cleaner – for an extended time period. If the volume is cranked all the way up on a normal mobile device it’s volume is about 106 decibels. In this scenario, injury begins to occur in less than 4 minutes.

Though this sounds like common sense stuff, in reality kids spend in excess of two hours each day on their devices, commonly with their earphones or earbuds plugged in. They’re playing games, watching videos, or listening to music during this time. And if current research is to be believed, this time will only increase over the next few years. Studies show that smartphones and other screens activate dopamine production in the brain’s of younger kids, which is literally what addictive drugs do. It will be more and more challenging to get screens away from kids, and their hearing may suffer as a result.

The Dangers of Hearing Loss in Young People

Irrespective of age, it’s clear that loss of hearing offers countless difficulties. Younger people, however, face additional issues regarding job prospects, after school sports, or even academics. Loss of hearing at a young age leads to issues with attention span and understanding concepts in class, which puts the student at a disadvantage. It also makes playing sports much more challenging, since so much of sports involves listening to teammates and coaches give instructions and call plays. Teenagers and young adults who are joining the workforce will have unnecessary challenges if their loss of hearing has a detrimental impact on their confidence.

Social problems can also continue because of loss of hearing. Children with damaged hearing frequently end up requiring therapy because they have a harder time with their friends due to loss of hearing. People who have loss of hearing can feel separated and have depression and anxiety inevitably leading to mental health problems. Mental health treatment and hearing loss management often go hand in hand, especially in teenagers and kids during formative years.

Avoiding Hearing Loss

The first rule to follow is the 60/60 rule – devices and earbuds should only be used for 1 hour per day at a maximum volume of 69%. If you can hear your kids music, even if they are at 60%, you should tell them to turn down the volume.

You might also choose to say goodbye to the earbuds and go with the older style over-the-ear headphones. Earbuds, placed directly in the ear can actually produce 6 to 9 extra decibels compared to traditional headphones.

Generally, though, do whatever you can to minimize your exposure to loud noises throughout the day. You can’t control everything, so try and make the time you’re listening to tunes headphone-free. If you do think you are suffering from hearing loss, you should see us right away.