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Published on February 27, 2013

The Many Dangers of Exposing Children to Excessive Noise

Matthew D. Rumsey, Au.D.
David Wagner, M.D.

February is Kids Ear, Nose and Throat Month

The world is a very noisy place. Many of the noises in our world are helpful. Some noises allow us to engage in conversations, enjoy music and avoid dangerous situations. Other noises can be harmful if they are excessively loud or if we listen to loud noise for too long. Noise induced hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss which affects people of all ages. Most noise induced hearing loss occurs gradually, which makes it more difficult to notice.

A recent survey revealed that approximately 13% of children ages 6 to 19 have permanent damage to their ears caused by exposure to loud noises.  The same survey showed that approximately 16% of adolescents ages 12 to 19 have some permanent hearing loss in one or both ears from noise exposure. These numbers have 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. 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.

Toys for very young children are often noisy. Unfortunately, toy companies are not required to keep toy noise at safe levels. A toy might be perfectly safe when it is 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 in a siblings ear has the potential of causing irreversible hearing loss.

The Sight and Hearing Association publishes a list of the noisiest toys each year (www.sightandhearing.org). Each year they find popular toys for young children sold in this country which are louder than chain saws. 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.

As children grow older, their risk of damaging their hearing comes from different sources. One of the most prevalent causes of hearing loss for children through young adults is the use of iPods or mp3 players. Maximum sound levels of personal music devices are estimated to be between 100 and 115 decibels which is extremely harmful to listeners.  Other dangers include video games, firearm exposure and concerts.

When encountering excessive noise, there are three options to protect our hearing and the hearing of our children:

  1. Walk Away – Simple enough. Remove yourself from the source of noise or at least increase the distance between yourself and 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.)
  3. Protect Yourself – Earplugs, earmuffs or even custom earmolds 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.)

For more information on kid’s ear, nose and throat health, contact Avera Medical Group Ear, Nose & Throat Yankton at (605) 665–6820 or the AAO-HNS website at www.entnet.org/kidsent.