When we think of noise induced hearing loss, we typically have the adult population in mind. Much of the literature and online information regarding this topic revolves around the same age population. A much-neglected area of discussion, however, is the risk of noise induced hearing loss at a young age.
Traditionally educational programs around hearing loss have focused on adults because historically American populations and those of other industrialized and developing nations have regarded hearing health with very low priority. As baby boomers and older generations have aged, they have started reaping the effects of damage to their hearing caused by working in industrial environments or fighting in wars.
Conversations that focus on this population are warranted precisely because noise induced hearing damage is a cumulative event that occurs over the course of many instances. Most of those suffering hearing loss don’t come by it after just one traumatic event, though that is possible. Most of us live with hearing loss due to repeated exposure to dangerous noise levels.
Children are no exception. Noise induced hearing loss can start laying its groundwork at infancy and beyond, depending on a child’s exposure to a particular environment. Noise induced hearing loss is caused by direct damage being done to the hair cells of the cochlea. While each person has a great number of hair cells (cilia), we each only use a small portion of those for our hearing.
As those hair cells are damaged, the hearing may not be affected until a certain threshold of damage is finally met. Although we may not be exposing our children to loud environments such as rock concerts or fireworks, we can still be exposing them to noise pollution that causes direct damage to their inner ear hair cells, and not even realize it.
A recent study by the University of Minnesota and the Sight and Hearing Association (SHA) tested 24 sound producing toys during the holiday season. They found that most of those toys transmitted noise at 100 decibels (db) or higher, which is the same db level as a chainsaw. Although toy manufacturers must comply with toy noise pollution standards set by the American Society of Testing and Material Standards (ASTM F963-08) that dictates all toys sound levels must be at 85 db or lower, when holding these toys close to a child’s ear, as children often do, many toys exceed the 85 db threshold, which is the level at which hearing loss occurs.
Another area of concern is the use of phones, music players, and tablets with headphones. The prevalence of these tech items is widespread among children of all ages. Even learning tablets focused on children at the preschool level are on the market that may be too loud if used with earphones.
Again, while no noticeable damage will occur with children after immediate use, the effect may be felt by the time these children reach early adulthood. According to the National Institute of Health, “a large-scale American national health survey indicated that 12% to 15% of school-aged children have some hearing deficits attributable to noise exposure.”
Before buying a toy, listen to it first. If it doesn’t have an adjustable volume, try covering it with a piece of tape (or paper). If it’s still loud, don’t buy it. Be wary particularly of toddler toys. Most have a volume control, but some may be uncommonly loud. Although volume standards must be complied with, listen before you buy.
Check the volume of your children’s personal devices often. Talk to them about the dangers of hearing loss on a regular basis. If they can’t hear you when you call them while their headphones are on, then their volume is set too high.