It is a common misperception that noise-induced hearing loss is usually caused by a short burst of eardrum-bursting loud noise—a building collapse or volcano eruption. Many people also associate it with damage sustained from loud work sites, such as those involving jackhammers or concert speakers. (The Who’s guitarist Pete Townsend attributes his hearing loss to decades of literally deafening concerts). Seldom do we think of noise-induced hearing loss in kids, but it’s a growing problem.
How Are Kids Sustaining Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
Some children are born with hearing loss, but more and more children are sustaining the gradual kind. Duration of noise matters as much as volume, so while the 85-decibel sound of a motorcycle passing won’t damage your hearing, a prolonged and continuous exposure to that level of noise would result in hearing loss over time. Where then are children being exposed to this kind of noise?
Headphones are the biggest culprit in young children. A 2010 study found that children ages 8 to 18 use entertainment media more than seven hours daily on average. If the volume is even a little above the recommended levels, damage is done over time. If those kids are exposed to other sources of noise during their day, then the damage is compounded.
In older children and teens, concerts and loud music are an additional concern. One loud concert can cause tinnitus in the short term, as well as permanent damage to hearing.
How Can Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Kids Be Prevented?
The World Health Organization recommends that sustained sound played through headphones be kept below 70 decibels. Music or media played at 85 decibels should be limited to one hour. Those recommendations are across the board, though, and since children are not yet tuned into the nuances of music, there is no need for them to listen to music or any recorded media at that level.
Fortunately, many kids’ headphones can now be set to not exceed a certain volume level—but not all, so it’s important to do your homework. The New York Times recently created a Google sheet list of sound measurements for kids’ headphones. Even when kids are using a good pair of noise-limited headphones, though, parents should monitor kids’ listening and make sure that they take frequent listening breaks so that ears can recover.
A few more tips for limiting kids’ noise exposure:
- Apple Watch users can track noise exposure and receive alerts when sound is an unsafe level.
- For older kids, noise-canceling headphones are helpful on planes and in cars, since media volume can be kept lower when vehicular noise is eliminated.
- For kids with Apple mobile devices, parents can set volume limits. Here’s how:
- Go to Settings. Select SOUNDS & HAPTICS.
- Select HEADPHONE SAFETY.
- Select HEADPHONES NOTIFICATIONS, which will send an alert if your child exceeds volume limits and safe listening durations, as well as reduce the volume if limits have been reached. A calendar will also automatically track listening habits over time.
- Under the calendar, you can manually adjust volume with a slider.
As more and more people use headphones for listening to music, media and to conduct meetings, hearing loss is becoming increasingly common. With long listening lives ahead of them, protecting kids’ ears now is crucial and will ensure that they don’t struggle with significant hearing loss as they age.