Now Hear This!: Preventing Hearing Loss in Children with Safe Headphone Use

Improper headphone usage can lead to hearing loss in children. We spoke with local experts on ways to keep your child’s hearing safe.

Little ears are bombarded by a symphony of sounds every day. Children’s headphone usage has greatly increased with their use of tablets, smartphones, and computers. Consequently, doctors are seeing a rise in hearing damage due to technological devices. How can parents protect their child’s hearing?

“Basically, spend as much as you can on headphones for your kids if they use them a lot,” says Nan Asher, Treasurer and Past President of Michigan Coalition for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People. “Invest in noise cancellation if possible. The extra money is worth it.”

Asher explained the science behind decibel levels and hearing.

“Generally, music needs to be 15 dB louder than the ambient noise around the user to enjoy what they’re listening to,” she said. “For example, if a teen is mowing the lawn, and the lawnmower is 70 dB, they’re going to have cheap headphones at an ear damaging 85 dB to enjoy their music.”

For this reason, Asher encourages parents to teach children to keep headphones at the lowest volume possible to protect their hearing.

Know The Signs

Parents should also be aware of signs that could point to hearing damage in children.

“Some symptoms of impending hearing loss that kids may experience include ringing in the ears. Also, muffled sounds after a loud exposure for several days afterward, like a concert or nearby fireworks,” Asher said.

Asher noted that children often complain about the noise of hand blow dryers in public bathrooms, which are placed lower on the walls and at a child’s level.

Children who experience tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, may have a hard time explaining the sensation. It may sound like buzzing bees or a whistle. Some children with sensitivity may become upset in noisy situations, such as birthday parties, concerts, or sports venues.

“Pay attention when your kids tell you something is too loud for them. Take them out of the environment or offer earplugs.”

Tips For Healthy Headphone Usage

Experts warn that volume is not the only factor in hearing loss. Exposure is also a key component. Parents should be aware of the amount of time that the child is wearing headphones and keep the duration to a minimum. Constant exposure, even at lower levels, can be damaging as well.

“It really comes down to two factors: volume and exposure time,” said Clare Furuta, Audiologist at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “The use of headphones itself is not the issue, but rather how long and how loud the stimulus is. If we look at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) noise exposure guidelines, as the level, or volume, of the stimulus increases, the exposure time should decrease. Keeping that in mind, a child should not be using headphones all day, or even most of their day, if at a loud level.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  •       Kids should take a break after an hour of listening with headphones.
  •       Turn the volume down to sixty percent on audio players.
  •       Kids should be able to hear conversations around them while wearing headphones.
  •       Do frequent listening tests of your child’s headphones and volume levels.
  •       If you can hear sounds coming from your child’s headphones while they are wearing them, then they are either ill-fitting headphones or the volume level is too loud. 
  •       Keep your distance from noise sources, such as speakers or loud toys.
  •       Leave if the noisy environment causes discomfort.
  •       Parents should model good listening behavior. Watch your own headphone usage, and control the volume on family movie night.

Due to the pandemic, Furuta noted that remote learning has increased headphone usage substantially, and parents need to be vigilant when monitoring their child’s homeschooling experience.

“With this past year, many kids have been attending classes virtually and wearing headphones for 6-8 hours a day,” she said.  “Therefore, just ensure that they are listening at an appropriate level and consider having them take breaks throughout the day.”

Prevent Loss With Frequent Hearing Exams

According to a recent study, one in six adolescents has high-frequency hearing loss. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children get screened for hearing at various stages of development: preschool, adolescence, teen years, and young adulthood. These tests can determine if the child has difficulty hearing a range of pitches.

The Centers for Disease Control have found that hearing loss can have a profound impact on child development as it relates to speech, language, social skills, and even behavior. Protecting them from hearing loss at a young age can aid in their healthy growth and development.

“Acquired hearing loss is not usually immediate,” Asher said. “It is usually a long, slow process where it is gradual, over decades. People will not notice until it is pretty significant. Usually, others notice long before the person does.”

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