Children and teens are frequently exposed to potentially damaging noise levels in schools, at home, and in sports, but there has been little reported on their risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Some three million children under the age of 18 have some hearing loss, and one factor is external noises.
A recent survey by the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery (AAO – HNS), Alexandria, Va, has found that four in five Americans are concerned about hearing loss due to ear buds. The survey shows that hearing loss is a top medical concern among parents, higher than concerns about asthma, food allergies, or exposure to tobacco smoke. More than 90% of parents are very concerned about hearing loss in their children.
Nationwide, 10 million Americans suffer from irreversible noise-induced hearing loss, with 30 million more exposed to dangerous noise levels daily. For children and teens, one of the simplest—and most preventable—ways that they can acquire noise-induced hearing loss is by listening to loud music.
In recognition of Better Hearing and Speech Month, which is celebrated in May, the AAO-HNS recommends these tips to ensure that parents know how to protect their families from noise-induced hearing loss:
•Encourage your children to take breaks from long periods of listening to music. •Give your child ear plugs or ear muffs if they are involved in a loud activity. •Remind your child to turn down the sound of their music. •Teach your child to avoid the noise (walk away) if they feel it is too loud.
Sound is measured in decibels (dB). A whisper is measured at 30 decibels and a normal conversation is 60 decibels. Eighty-five decibels is equal to listening to your stereo loudly but you are able to hear your friends in a conversation easily. However, the sound from a personal mp3 player at maximum level has been measured at 115 decibels—higher than the noise from a power saw (110 decibels).
According to ENT doctors and government occupational safety standards, people should wear ear plugs if they are exposed to any noise over 85 decibels for at least 8 hours. If the noise is louder, the length of time needed to damage hearing will shorten. For example, 100 decibels may only take 15 minutes to permanently damage your hearing.
For children and teens, some activities that can risk damaging hearing include: playing with noisy toys, band instruments, and video games; listening to personal music players and stereos at high volumes; attending concerts and movies; operating lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and power tools; and riding off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. As a general rule, noise may damage your hearing if you are at arm’s length from it, or have to shout to make yourself heard.