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Tips to Protect Your Child's Hearing

Wartinger, Frank AuD

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000527876.90828.5f
Patient Handout

Dr. Wartinger is an audiologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the owner and founder of Earmark Hearing Conservation, a musician's clinic based in Philadelphia. He also serves as the director of communications at the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA).

Hearing damage from loud and repeated sound exposure affects an estimated one in six children by the end of their teenage years—a staggeringly high rate for an injury that is entirely preventable. Dangerously loud sounds are all around us, from devices like personal music players, power tools, and farm machinery, to activities like concerts, sporting events, and lawn care. So it's important to note these tips to protect your child's hearing.

hearing protection, pediatric health, noise

hearing protection, pediatric health, noise

Teach children to respect their hearing. Children may be more likely to protect their hearing if they learn to respect and appreciate it. One exercise to achieve this goal is to have children identify their favorite sounds, then share how they would feel if they could no longer hear those sounds.

Know when a sound is dangerously loud. When you're in a noisy setting, stay informed with sound-level meter mobile apps. If a child is listening to media through earphones, parents can listen to their children's media and set password-protected volume limits as appropriate.

Set time limits. Loud sound damages hearing over time. Reducing the amount of time spent listening to a loud sound will reduce the risk of developing hearing damage. A useful analogy is the relationship between sun exposure time and the risk of developing a sunburn. Just as sunscreen use can increase outdoor play time, the use of hearing protection can increase the allowed time at a concert, sporting event, or other loud activity.

Make safe headphone choices. All personal listening devices can produce dangerously loud sound levels, but certain types of earphones and headphones are designed to support healthier listening habits.

  • Noise-isolating earphones reduce background noise, such as a car or subway, to allow users to enjoy music or movies at lower volumes. But since these devices work so well, users need to pay extra attention to their surroundings to stay safe.
  • Electronic noise-cancelling headphones are high-tech devices that can help make listening more comfortable in noisy places, but these devices are not specifically designed to ensure safe listening levels.
  • Output limiting earphones regulate the maximum sound level, making them good options for children who cannot self-regulate yet or can easily get around a device's volume limits.

Although most of these products work as advertised, they do not replace the need for adult supervision and monitoring.

Set smart listening rules. The 80/90 rule guides all listeners, adults and kids alike, to keep their device volume setting below 80 percent and to limit their daily listening time to 90 minutes or less. If this time and volume tracking proves too difficult for the child, the Arm's Length rule can be used: if a listener cannot hear someone speaking from an arm's length away, then the music he/she is listening to may be set too loud.

Additionally, try to avoid rules that can be easily disproven. One example is the commonly uttered “If I can overhear your music, your headphones are too loud.” This rule does a poor job of identifying safe listening levels. This is because the vented design of many popular earbuds allows low sound levels to be readily overheard, while other earphone designs can trap very high sound levels in the wearer's ear with very little leakage.

Choose age-appropriate hearing protection. Protective earmuffs that tailor to children's smaller heads are often available in kid-friendly colors and graphics. For infants and small children who may not tolerate traditional earmuffs, adjustable elastic head-band style earmuffs may work well.

What can I do as a parent? Just as parents remain diligently aware of the food, medications, media, and other things to which their children are being exposed, they should be aware of their children's potential exposures to dangerously loud sounds and noises. Parents can model healthy hearing habits by turning down volume levels if they get too loud, walking away from loud sounds, and protecting their ears in noisy settings.

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