By: Denise Stewart, MS-CCCA
As a clinical audiologist most of my adult patients have a known or suspected hearing loss. At least once a week an adult “baby-boomer” patient will lament concerning the damage he sustained from rock concerts as a youth and how youth today must be ruining their hearing with their iPods. There has been a recent surge of information and warnings regarding the use of iPods and other MP3 players. While it is true that these personal audio devices are a potential risk to hearing, there are many other sources of noise and music induced hearing loss that receive less attention.
What kind of noise is harmful?
The loudness of sound is measured in decibels. In general, noise is considered potentially harmful if it exceeds 85 decibels for at least 2 hours. Some noises are loud enough that even brief exposure can permanently damage hearing. Following are common sources of noise for children and youth and ways to control exposure:
Musical noise exposure
Research has shown that listening to iPods and other MP3 players is safe at levels no greater than 85 decibels for 2 hours or less. Earbuds (called KidzSafe earbuds) are available from our clinic; they will limit the output of any audio device to a maximum of 85 decibels. Children in musical bands require protection that will not interfere with hearing the dynamics of music. Musician’s earplugs are recommended for children in bands or orchestras. Musician’s earplugs can be custom made for you by the audiologist. Some health insurance plans will cover the cost of these custom earplugs with a referral from the child’s primary physician.
Toys and noise
Toys are probably the first source of exposure to loud noise for many young children. In 2003, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International adopted a voluntary acoustic standard for toys. The ASTM provides a specific noise level limit for each type of toy or video game. Parents should make sure that a toy was manufactured in accordance with ASTM standards prior to purchase. For toys already in your home, examine them for loud noise. If it sounds loud to you, most likely it is a danger to your child’s hearing. Remove the batteries or discard the toy.
Sporting events and noise
It is wise to bring hearing protection to ballparks and other sporting events due to the potential for loud impulse noises. Noise from drag racing at NASCAR events is predictable and dangerous to hearing. Children and adults should be fit with appropriate hearing protection prior to attending these events. Obviously, older children who accompany adults on hunting trips where firearms are used should be fit with appropriate hearing protection. Parents should promote a culture of hearing safety by being a good role model. Use hearing protection at home when using power tools or a power lawn mower. Be sure to take hearing protection with you when attending events where loud noise or music is expected.