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Children and teenagers at risk for noise-induced hearing loss


Young children and teenagers are often exposed to potentially damaging noise levels in school, at home, and even when participating in sports and recreational activities, but very little has been reported on their risk for noise-induced hearing loss. In fact, three million children under the age of 18 have some kind of hearing loss, and the reasons have increasingly been from exposure to external noises.

A recent survey by the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery (AAO - HNS), which represents ear, nose and throat doctors, found that four in five Americans are concerned about hearing loss due to the use of ear phones. The survey showed that hearing loss is a huge medical concern among parents, even higher than their concerns about asthma, food allergies, or exposure to tobacco smoke. More than 90% of parents have expressed their concern about hearing loss in their children.

Nationwide, ten million Americans suffer from irreversible noise-induced hearing loss, with thirty million more exposed to dangerous noise levels each day. For children and teenagers, one of the simplest – and most preventable – ways that they can acquire noise-induced hearing loss is by listening to loud music.

Tufts Medical Center celebrated Better Hearing and Speech Month in May and 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 earplugs or earmuffs if they are participating in and activity involving loud noises. 
  • Remind your child to turn down the volume of their music.
  • Teach your child to remove themselves from noisy situations if they feel it is too loud for them.

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). A whisper is measured at thirty decibels and a normal conversation is around sixty 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 an 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 eighty-five decibels for at least eight hours. If the noise is louder, the length of time needed to damage hearing will shorten. For example, one hundred decibels may only take fifteen minutes to permanently damage your hearing.

Hearing loss is sneaky and adds up over the years.  It starts in the high frequencies that humans don’t notice much until they begin to lose understanding of words, so that often people have difficulty hearing.  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.

Some activities that can potentially damage hearing in children and teenagers include:

  • Playing with noisy toys, band instruments and video games
  • Listening to personal music players and stereos at high volumes
  • Attending concerts and movies that are extremely loud
  • Operating lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and power tools
  • Riding off-road vehicles and snowmobiles.