We live in a really, really noisy world. Just take a second and think back to the last time you remember enjoying a time of quiet, without the sound blaring from your tv or your phone. Exposure to noise has many effects on our health, with the most prevalent being hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear. Our kids are at a higher risk of hearing loss caused by noise than ever before. I’d like to share a few things about hearing and noise, and some things we can do to help manage noise and keep our kids and their ears healthy.
Hearing plays a main role in communication, speech and language development and learning. Even a mild hearing loss can have a profound negative impact on a child’s speech and language, comprehension, classroom learning and social development. So it is very important to be aware of all the noise kids are exposed to and prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear, causing permanent hearing loss. Loud noise can damage your child’s hearing right away if its from a loud blast, or it can happen slowly over time. The volume or intensity of noise is measured in decibels and normal conversational is at about 60 decibels. Being around noise on a regular basis that is 85 decibels or higher can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound is, the less time it takes for damage to occur. Listening to something at 100 decibels can cause hearing loss in as little as 15 minutes. Loud noise causes hearing loss, but there are many other ways noise negatively affects us.
Did you know that noise is a big cause of stress? I think we’d agree that most of us have enough stress in our lives! Being exposed to noise can also cause high blood pressure, increased heart rates, upset stomach, difficulty sleeping, increased tiredness and irritability, and ringing in the ears. There is growing evidence that there is a correlation between prolonged exposure to noise and an increase in hyperactivity in kids.
An estimated 1 in 8 children have suffered permanent damage to his or her hearing from excessive exposure to noise. That’s crazy! Today, the typical teenager has the hearing that we would expect to see in a 40 year old adult.
Using headphones or earbuds with our smartphones to listen to music and stream movies or videos provides us with many opportunities to bombard our ears for long periods of time. If your kids use headphones, you might consider purchasing noise cancelling headphones. The advantage of this type of headphone is that they reduce ambient noise, making it easier to hear music at a lower volume. The rule of thumb is that if you can hear what’s coming out of their headphones or earbuds, its too loud. I feel like I’m constantly telling my teenagers to turn down their music. They get SO annoyed with me and complain that just because I’m an audiologist I don’t need to bug them about it all the time!
There are sound level meter apps that you can download on your phone that are really good and easy to use. You can use it to measure sounds, including the level of the sound coming out of your child’s earbuds. You should also limit the amount of time your kids spend on noisy activities, and have them take breaks when doing something loud. Have them wear hearing protection when doing noisy activities like mowing the lawn or when going to a concert or loud sporting event. Remember seeing Michael Phelps’s baby wearing baby earmuffs at the Olympics? Not only did that protect his hearing, it very likely made him and more comfortable and less irritable.
When picking out toys for young kids, listen to the toys before you buy them, and if it sounds loud to you, don’t buy it. Some toys such as rattles, squeaky toys, toy phones and musical toys can measure over 100 decibels, especially concerning because the child will play with these toys very near his or her ears. If you have toys that make loud noise, put tape over the speaker to reduce the volume. Babies are very susceptible to noise because a baby’s ear canals are smaller than ours, making the sound more intense at the eardrum.
Talk with your kids about the dangers of loud noise so they can make smart choices as they grow. Be aware of the noise in your environment and try to limit your child’s exposure to noise. Lead by example and keep the volume down a bit, and use hearing protection when mowing the lawn or using a leaf blower. Create quiet times for your kids (and yourself!) for learning, relaxing and sleeping. It’s a noisy world out there, so turn down the volume and take time for some peace and quiet.
Darcy is the owner and audiologist of Streator Hearing Care, LLC, in Streator, Illinois. She provides hearing evaluations for children and adults, as well as OAE testing for newborns. She educates individuals about hearing loss, and provides hearing aids for people with hearing impairment. In addition, she provides occupation hearing conservation services to local industries. Prior to owning her private practice the past 7 years she was the audiologist at St. Mary’s Hospital for nearly 20 years.