We are always looking for ways to keep our kids quiet and entertained during a long car ride. Whether they are listening to music, playing video games, or watching a movie in the back seat, they are most likely wearing headphones. Have you ever wondered if this is safe for their ears?
WHY IT’S A PROBLEM
With the explosion of smart phones, portable gaming systems, and media players, more children and teenagers are listening to ear buds and headphones at dangerously high volumes that can damage their hearing. According to the American Osteopathic Association, one in five teens has some form of hearing loss. This rate is about 30 percent higher than it was in the 1990s. Many experts believe this change is due to the increased use of headphones.
Listening to devices at levels greater than 80 decibels (dB) for extended periods of time may be dangerous. Over time, the hair cells in the ear start to break down because they are not receiving proper blood flow and oxygen. This essentially exhausts the auditory system, causing hearing loss. Unfortunately, hearing loss is permanent and cannot be reversed. Even mild hearing loss due to excessive noise could lead to developmental delays in speech and language.
Children are especially susceptible to this damage because they are not aware of the dangers and do not fully understand what it means to be too loud. How our children listen to their music and other devices can greatly impact their chance of having hearing issues down the road. Unfortunately, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, experts predict a rise in hearing loss nationally due to unsafe use of personal audio devices.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR
How will you know if the headphones are affecting your child’s hearing? According to the American Osteopathic Association, the type of hearing loss due to headphones is usually gradual over a long period of time and without obvious warning signs.
The only way to determine if your child has hearing loss is to have them undergo a thorough hearing test and medical examination by a hearing specialist. If your child experiences any of the following symptoms, it is a good idea to have them evaluated:
- Ringing, roaring, hissing or buzzing in the ear.
- Difficulty understanding speech in noisy places or places with poor acoustics.
- Muffled sounds and a feeling that the ear is plugged.
- Listening to the TV or radio at a higher volume than in the past.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD
You do not have to ban your children from ever using headphones again. By taking the following important steps, you can help protect them from damaging their ears.
Choose External Headphones
Experts suggest that children use larger, external headphones that rest over the ear opening as opposed to ear buds that are placed directly in the ear. External headphones consist of small speakers that are held close to the ear, while ear buds focus sound more directly into the ear. Ear buds also allow more background noise to seep in, so children often turn up the volume to compensate, causing more damage to their ears. Additionally, ear buds are not typically designed for children’s smaller ears, which can prevent them from hearing properly.
Try Noise Cancelling Headphones
Background noises can be distracting to headphone listeners. Their first reaction to this extra sound is to turn the volume up, drowning out the unwanted noise. Children especially tend to do this. By investing in high-quality noise reduction headphones that cover the entire ear, you can solve this problem. They will keep outside noise from interfering with the sound coming out of the headphones and eliminate the need to turn the volume up to dangerous levels.
Set Specific Volume Limits
Most MP3 players can produce sounds up to 120 dB, which is the equivalent to a rock concert. At that level, hearing loss can occur after only about an hour and 15 minutes! The general consensus among experts is that children should avoid extended exposure to volumes above 80 dB. Studies show that decibels beyond this level—for even short periods of time—can result in hearing loss. By keeping below 80 dB, children can safely listen for about eight hours without damage.
Although the maximum volume limit is adjustable on many devices, your children may be able to disable the function and increase the volume on their own. It is critical to set strict guidelines about the maximum volume level allowable in order to protect their hearing.
Look For Headphones Designed Especially For Children
Some headphones on the market are designed to keep the volume at a safe level to prevent noise induced hearing loss. Look for headphones with a built-in volume limiter to prevent sound levels from exceeding 80 dB.
Limit Listening Time
The amount of time your children spend on their headphones plays a major factor in how their hearing is impacted. Moderation is key in protecting your children’s ears. Avoiding excessive use of listening devices will go a long way in preventing hearing loss. Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University suggests the “60/60 rule” to use as a guideline. This means using only 60 percent of the device’s volume level for no more than 60 minutes at a time. After 60 minutes, your children should give their ears a break for at least an hour.
Educate your children about the risks of listening to their devices too loudly. Explain to them how important it is to be aware of the volume level. Check in periodically to make sure your child is keeping the sound at a safe volume. You should be able to gauge the volume just by standing next to them while they are wearing headphones. If you can hear sound coming from the headphones, then it is too loud. Also, make sure to check the volume setting on the device.
Sandi Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher specializing in parenting, wellness, environmental issues, and human behavior. She enjoys analyzing everyday life using science, humor, and a passion to improve the world. Her blog Happy Science Mom provides a parenting toolkit for raising happy, balanced children. To learn more about her work, please visit www.sandischwartz.com.