Protecting Young Children from Our Noisy World

The world is a very noisy place.  Many of the noises we hear are helpful, but some can be extremely harmful.  Sound allows us to converse with people, enjoy music and even avoid dangerous situations.  Other noises can be harmful if they are excessively loud or if we listen to loud noise for too long. As parents, one of our number one priorities is to keep our kids safe… but that is hard to do when the dangers seem harmless.  When I first went to school for Audiology, I remember being amazed by all the noise dangers in my household.  This blog isn’t intended to scare anyone, or make anyone feel guilty, but rather to inform you on the dangers of noise exposure to our children (and all of us really).

Noise induced hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss which affects people of all ages.  The numbers of people with noise induced hearing loss has risen in recent years, but the good news is this type of hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Children of all ages can be exposed to excessive noise in their everyday lives.  This noise can come from almost anything: toys, mp3 players, farm equipment, etc.  It is the role of parents to help identify the sources of loud sounds that can contribute to hearing loss, and try to reduce exposure to those sounds or reduce the sounds to safe levels.  Parents can also help their children by being good role models on how to protect their hearing.  If hearing and the use of hearing protection are important to a parent, it will be important to their children, as well.

In this posting we will focus on protecting young children from noise dangers (blog post regarding older children coming soon).

Who has a child that ever received a LOUD gift from a family member?  You know, the gift that typically is opened with said family member snickering in the corner. Typically, the family member is buying the gift because the recipient will love it and the parents will HATE it. We have all been there, right?

Truthfully, I think I have been on both ends of that scenario (before I knew better, of course).  The really important, and shocking fact  most people don’t understand is that toy companies are not required to keep toy noise at safe levels (like the manufacturers of many other products).  A toy might be perfectly safe when used appropriately, but we all know kids like to be creative with the way they play with toys.  For example, a whistle blown appropriately would not likely cause immediate harm, but a whistle blown loudly by a child into a siblings ear has the potential of causing irreversible, immediate hearing loss. But none of our children would ever do that right????

Of course, I am being facetious…. Kids use their siblings, friends, etc. as parts of miniature experiments daily (or as victims of torture).  One of my children last year shot a cap gun right at her sister’s ear… and they have been taught about the dangers of noise…on almost a daily basis. You can imagine my reaction. Don’t worry, like any good mom with a degree in Audiology, I tested her hearing as soon as I could, and there was no permanent hearing loss. Whew. But some of my patients, who experienced similar scenarios weren’t as lucky.

The Sight and Hearing Association publishes a list of the noisiest toys each year (www.sightandhearing.org).  Each year they find popular toys for children sold in this country which are louder than chainsaws.   Some of these toys can begin causing damage after just 15 minutes of play.  Many parents have a false sense of safety because they assume harmful toys are not permitted to be sold in this country. We are always so preoccupied by toys having no lead content in the paint, right? I have found toys at the dollar store that could easily damage hearing.  For a project in grad school, a few of my classmates bought an air horn and measured its intensity at 126 dB SPL. For frame of reference, a jackhammer is 130 dB SPL.

So once kids stop playing with toys, we’re in the clear, right?...Guess again! But you’ll have to wait until my next blog post to learn more about the dangers for older children and teenagers.

Luckily we don’t have to hide from the world to prevent damage from noise…we have three options to protect our hearing and the hearing of our children (these are the same for everyone):

1)      Walk Away- Simple enough.  Remove yourself (or your kids) from the source of noise or at least increase the distance from the noise. (An example would be to sit further back at a concert.  Never stand near the speakers.)

2)      Turn it Down- Turn the volume down.  (This is effective for music, television, radio, video games, etc.). For toys, putting duct tape securely (we don’t want a choking hazard) over the speaker can help reduce the noise to safe levels.

3)      Protect Yourself- Earplugs, Noise Earmuffs or even custom ear protection can all offer protection when used properly.  (This is best used for noises without adjustable volume such as mowing the lawn, hunting, tree trimming, etc.) I suggest very young children not be allowed to do these things though.

We, as parents, spend a great deal of our time protecting children from dangers.  Noise has the ability to damage much more than a child’s hearing and can have lifelong consequences. Hearing is what allows us to communicate in our world.  That communication is what keeps us connected to one another.  One last reason to protect our kids’ hearing?...One less cause for mommy guilt!