Most of us associate hearing loss with old age, but it is increasingly common for children and teens to suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss. Nearly 15% of kids have hearing loss according to the CDC. Hearing loss can be due to many things that are difficult to control, such as heredity, infection, and medications. In kids and teens it is oven due to a preventable cause: noise.
Where does the excessive noise come from?
Even young children are exposed to more loud noises through toys, television, and gaming devices than children of years past.
Widespread use of ear buds for prolonged periods can take its toll on hearing. Unlike the bulky headphones used when I was a child, ear buds deliver sound directly into the ear canal without any sound buffering in between. Most often the ear buds are used with iPods and other mp3 players are low to mediocre quality, so they are unable to transit the bass as effectively. Many kids turn the music up to hear the bass. If others can hear the music coming from ear buds, they are too loud!
Loud concerts or sporting events can also expose our ears to excessive volumes for a prolonged period of time.
Not all excessive noise is from kids being undisciplined – some kids are helping out the family or trying to earn extra cash by mowing lawns or using power tools, which puts them at increased risk.
How much is too much?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being exposed to more than 85 decibels (dB) of sound for eight hours can damage your hearing. At 105 dB, hearing loss is possible after a mere 5 minutes.
If you’re like me, that means nothing because how much is 85 dB? There is a great chart of common sounds and how loud they are on this page from the CDC. There are also several free apps available for download on smartphones and tablets – search “sound meter” or “decibel” and read reviews before downloading. Take advantage of these — and because it’s in the phone, kids might actually have fun playing around with them and learning about their environmental risks at the same time!
Signs of hearing loss
One early sign of excessive noise is ringing in the ears, but most people with hearing loss never realize it’s happening because it’s slowly progressive. If you notice your child asking “what” more often or complaining that the television is too quiet when others hear it well, it is a good idea to have their hearing tested.
Consequences of hearing loss
There are many potential consequences to hearing loss:
- Learning – you have to be able to hear the lecture.
- Behaviors – if directions and instructions are missed, a child might incorrectly be seen as misbehaving.
- Friendships and social skills – if a child can’t follow a conversation they aren’t easy to talk to or play with.
- Job availability – many jobs require hearing at a certain level.
- Wear hearing protection (earplugs) when mowing the grass and attending loud events, such as concerts or sporting events.
- Turn down your music! Some music players have alerts when the volume goes too loud, but those can be ignored if the child doesn’t understand why it’s important to lower the volume. If others can hear the music you’re listening to through ear buds, turn it down.
- Lower the maximum volume setting on your iPod or mp3 player. To do this, go to “Settings” and select “Volume Limit” under Music. Set it at about 60% of the full volume, that way you can’t accidentally turn your music too high.
- Use big headphones instead of ear buds. They offer more external noise cancelling, which allows the music to be heard better at lower volumes. They are also physically further from your eardrum, which helps.
- If you must use ear buds, use high quality buds that transmit bass if you are tempted to turn music up to hear the bass.
- Follow the 60/60 rule: No more than 60 minutes of listening at a time, and no higher than 60 percent of maximum volume. If you go under “settings,” you can actually set your iPod for maximum volume setting of 60 percent, so you can’t accidentally turn your music up too loud.
- Higher pitched sounds have greater potential to damage your ears than lower pitched sounds. Turn down the volume when a high-pitched song comes on.
- Try not to fall asleep with ear buds or headphones on. The time of exposure matters and why waste sleep time damaging your ears?
- If you need “white noise” to fall to sleep, put together a playlist of soft songs or sounds and have it play at a low volume from a speaker on your bedside table. Use your clock’s “sleep” function, which will automatically turn off your music after a set amount of time to ensure the music doesn’t end up playing all night long, which saves energy in addition to your hearing.
- As always: model these behaviors for your children. If they see you mowing the grass with loud music blaring in your ears, they will grow up to do the same. If you wear ear buds many hours of the day, they will see that as a normal and acceptable behavior.