Noise Exposure in Young Children and Teens
A report from the World Health Organization states that North American children “may receive more noise at school than workers from an eight-hour work day at a factory.”
Studies have also shown that for 12.5 percent of 6-19 year olds and 16.8 percent of 12-19 year olds in the United States, their hearing thresholds have become worse, which has been directly attributed to noise. Parents often ask us how this happens and what can be done to prevent it. Let’s first look at how this happens.
Loud noise and sounds can be very damaging to a person’s hearing. Both the level of noise and the length of time you listen to it can put you or 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. 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 (or the person’s family and friends).
Young children: 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 (as loud as a snowmobile) or more if placed close to the ear.
Tweens and Teens: 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.
Potential sources of loud noise include playing a musical instrument, attending concerts, and using personal headphones to listen to music or games, as well as lawn mowing, hunting or target shooting. Teenagers should be advised to limit the duration and intensity of sound exposure or noisy activities, such as concert-going or playing in a band, and to use hearing protection whenever engaged in these activities.
How can I tell if I’m listening to dangerous noise levels?
You are listening to dangerously loud sounds/noise if:
- You must raise your voice to be heard even when you’re 2-3 feet from the person.
- You can’t hear or understand someone 3 feet away from you.
- You need to take your ear buds/headphones off in order to hear what is being said to you (unless they are noise-canceling headphones).
- 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 I do?
- 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.
- Don’t use headphones/earphones for more than two hours a day. Headphones (over-the-ear) are preferred over in-the ear earphones (e.g. airpods) as they are farther from the eardrum. Noise canceling earphones are preferred over those that are not.
- 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.
- Check out sightandhearing.org and click on “News,” then “Past News Releases,” to see a list of the noisy toys to avoid.
- Educate your child about hearing loss. (See the websites below, which have activities for young children and tweens, as well as other fun and useful information about noise exposure and hearing loss.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Some movie theaters, health clubs, dance clubs, bars, and amusement centers are very noisy. Speak to managers and those in charge about the loud noise and the potential damages to hearing. Ask to have the noise lowered.
- Look for noise ratings on appliances, sporting equipment, power tools, and hair dryers. Purchase quieter products.
Remember, noise-induced hearing loss is usually gradual and painless, but it is PERMANENT. Once destroyed, the hearing nerve and its sensory nerve cells do not repair.