Hearing loss is common across Kentucky, and it isn’t confined to older adults; nearly 15 percent of children aged 6-19 years old have a hearing impairment of at least 16 decibels (dB) in one or both ears in Louisville. Bilateral hearing loss (affecting both ears) of 40 dB or greater affects 1.4 out of every 1,000 children. There are many causes of hearing loss; while some of these can’t be prevented, the biggest factor—noise exposure—is preventable.
The Damaging Effects of Noise on Children’s Hearing
Noise exposure is responsible for about one-third of all cases of hearing loss. It affects people of all ages, but children are especially susceptible. Sounds measuring 85 decibels (dB), about equivalent to city traffic in Louisville, can be listened to safely for up to eight hours a day.
Once you exceed that threshold, your safe listening time drops significantly. Listening to music is one of the biggest culprits of pediatric hearing loss; the volume from smartphones and tablets can easily exceed 105 dB—loud enough to cause permanent damage to delicate ears in as little as five minutes.
How loud is too loud for children?
Let’s face it, our kids don’t always make smart choices; in the case of music, they simply don’t know better than to keep the volume turned down.
A good rule of thumb as a parent is this: if you can hear your child’s music when you’re standing about an arm’s length away and they are wearing earbuds or headphones, it’s too loud!
What are healthy listening habits?
It’s never too soon to start teaching your children safe listening habits.
Let them know that they should set the volume to no more than 60 percent of maximum and take a few minutes’ break once an hour or so to give their ears a rest. Despite these warnings, we can’t always trust kids to listen…and it can be difficult to judge decibel levels on our own. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help ensure safe listening.
Your Louisville audiologist recommends downloading a sound level meter app to your smartphone to help ensure your kids (and you—noise affects everybody’s hearing!) are listening safely. There are many free or inexpensive apps in the Apple Store or Google Play, but keep in mind that none of these are regulated, so you’ll have to do some careful research before trusting them.
One app that does work well is the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App, available at no cost from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Proper headphones make a world of difference when it comes to listening to music safely. Earbuds are very popular these days, but they don’t block out ambient noise, so kids have a tendency to crank up the volume in order to drown out background sounds—and that’s a recipe for hearing loss.
Look for isolating earbuds, which provide a tight seal inside the ear canal that blocks out surrounding noise. You might also notice occluding earbuds, but these should be avoided as they cover up important warning sounds such as car horns, presenting a safety hazard.
If your kids prefer over-the-ear headphones, don’t be fooled into thinking these are safer; because they’re larger, they deliver sounds at a higher volume. Look for a pair of volume-limiting headphones, which prevent sound levels from creeping into the danger zone. Noise-cancelling headphones are another good option; like isolating earbuds, these block out background sounds, so music can be enjoyed at a lower (safer) volume.
Concerned about your child’s hearing? Schedule an appointment with our pediatric audiologist.
Alternatively, you could try convincing your kids to start listening to classical music, but even Beethoven can be damaging to your hearing if it’s cranked up loudly. For more tips on helping your kids develop safe listening habits, reach out to an audiologist in Louisville.
Learn more about hearing loss in children:
- Facts for Louisville Parents with Deaf or Hard of Hearing Kids
- Can Hand Dryers Hurt Kids’ Ears?
- Help Your Kids Avoid Hearing Loss