It has become increasingly more common to see children using tablets, portable gaming devices and smartphones with headphones. Certainly these days our children are wired for sound, but does this increased use of headphones and the potential damage inflicted by them mean that they will be more wired for hearing aids in the near future?
Loud noise and sounds can be very damaging to a child’s hearing. Both the level of noise and the length of time exposed to it can put your child at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Sound levels are measured in decibels (dB); the higher the decibel number, the louder the sound/noise. Research has shown that sounds louder than 85 dB can cause permanent hearing loss. However, it’s not a linear relationship. Eighty decibels is twice as loud as 70 decibels, and 90 decibels is four times louder. Exposure to 100 decibels, about the volume of noise caused by a power lawn mower, is safe for just 15 minutes. Noise at 108 decibels, however, is safe for less than three minutes. Most of the hearing loss caused by exposure to loud sounds can happen very slowly and take years to be detected by the person who has it.
|Sound Level||Length of exposure, before damage to your hearing|
|50 – 70 dB||No damage|
|85 dB||8 hours|
|90 dB||2 hours|
|100 dB||15 minutes|
|110 dB||1 minute|
|120 dB and upwards||Instant damage|
One of the most common ways young children are exposed to excessive noise is via noisy toys. Many toys are designed to be played at a distance from the body, but a young child will bring the toy close to his/her face and ears. By bringing the toy closer to his/her ears, the resulting sound is louder and therefore more damaging. Some toys can reach 100dB or more if placed close to the ear.
Research has shown that there has been an increase in hearing loss in adolescents during the past three decades. What is even more frightening is that a loss of hearing may go undetected for many years after chronic exposure to high levels of noise. This means that the hearing loss caused by the noise teenagers are exposing themselves to today might not surface for many years.
A recent study suggests that children who listen to headphones may be at greater risk for a noise-induced hearing loss. The study further claimed regardless of how long they wore headphones or how high they set the volume, kids who used headphones just one or two days a week were more than twice as likely to have hearing loss as children who didn’t use headphones at all.
A noise-related hearing loss is classified as a hearing loss in the high frequencies (high pitched sounds). A child with a noise related hearing loss may struggle to hear soft or faint sounds, speech may sound unclear or muffled and it may be accompanied by ringing in their ears. Noise-induced hearing loss generally comes about gradually and is not painful. However, the damage caused to the inner ear is irreversible. A loss can be temporary after a loud event but it can become permanent with repeated exposure to noise.
How can I tell if I’m listening to dangerous noise levels?
You or your child is listening to dangerously loud sounds/noise if:
- You must raise your voice to be heard even when you’re 1 meter from the person.
- If you can clearly hear what your child is listening to through their headphones, then it is too loud
- If a parent is arm’s length away, then the child should be able to hear if the parent asks a question.
- You are listening to music or a game at more than 50 percent (half) of the maximum volume.
- Speech around you sounds muffled or dull after you leave the noisy area.
- You have pain or ringing in your ears (“tinnitus”) after exposure to noise.
What can be done?
- You cannot limit every sound that a child hears, you can take some preventive steps to minimize potential damage
- The best option is to avoid the loud sounds or noise whenever possible.
- If that is not possible, use hearing protection like earplugs and/or earmuffs. Cotton will not protect your hearing.
- If you don’t have any hearing protection available, try to limit the amount of time you or your child is exposed to the loud sound.
- When purchasing toys for infants, look for ones with a volume control or an off/on button.
- Limit the amount of time that children are exposed to sound or remove the batteries from young children’s toys. Another option is to cover the loudspeaker with tape to lower the volume.
- Keep personal-listening devices set to no more than half volume. Don’t be afraid to ask others to turn down the sounds from speakers.
- Encourage children to take breaks from their headphones in order to give their inner ear hair cells time to rest
- Instead of the in the ear headphones, let your child use headphones that fit over their ears.
- Purchase sound limiting and noise cancelling headphones for your child but continue to monitor the level that they listen at
- Look for noise ratings on appliances, sporting equipment, power tools, and hair dryers. Purchase quieter products
Life is loud so lead by example! YOU can also lose your hearing with noise exposure, so use hearing protection when needed and listen to music, the T.V., and other sounds at a softer level. Remember to test your child’s hearing on an annual basis to monitor their hearing abilities.