Children are drawn to loud sounds, especially if those sounds are entertaining or projected by a noisy toy. We tend to think of our children as having perfect hearing, capable of picking up on all kinds of noises. In reality, up to 15% of children between 6 and 19 years old have hearing loss in at least one ear.
While some types of hearing loss are genetic or the result of complications during birth, many children who have hearing loss experience this problem because of exposure to loud noises. In other words, most pediatric hearing loss is preventable. Parents play an important role in their child’s hearing health. With the right tools and vigilant parenting practices, you can protect your child’s hearing.
What Causes Hearing Damage In Young Ears?
Noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss for most people. Exposure to loud noises can damage the sensitive hairs inside the inner ear (called the cochlea). While occasional exposure to loud noises can cause temporary damage, repeated exposure to loud noises – or exposure to a very loud noise even just one time – can cause permanent damage.
Other sources of hearing damage include head injuries and repeated ear infections. Children who get regular ear infections may need treatment like tube insertion to drain the ears and prevent future ear infections. Without tubes in the ears, repeated ear infections could begin to cause deafness.
Many kids experience hearing loss because they hold loud toys close to their ears, stand too close to the television with the volume turned up, and listen to loud music on their headphones. These are all preventable problems. You can protect your child’s hearing by following the practices below.
Teach Your Child to Listen Safely
As a parent, you can teach your child to listen to music, television shows and movies without turning up the volume to unsafe levels. Engaging in regular conversations with your child about how important it is to protect their ears can help your child develop good music-listening and television-watching habits. Below are some habits that can protect your child’s hearing:
- Ask your child to take breaks when listening to loud music or between television shows, or even when playing with a noisy toy.
- Turn down volume to half level to avoid listening to any headphones or devices at full level – even if the device is marketed as being “safe” for sensitive ears.
- Teach your child or children to be responsible for their hearing safety. By reminding your child occasionally that they can protect their own ears by keeping down the volume, you reinforce good playing and listening habits.
Some devices are deliberately marketed as being safe for children’s sensitive ears. Sometimes these devices fall short of being truly safe. Research the products that you buy for your child. Generally speaking, sounds at 70 dBa are considered safe, while sounds at 80 or 85 are considered far too loud.
Be cautious giving your child anything that is louder than 70 dBa. Look for devices that give you some amount of control over volume settings. Devices that can be controlled from an app or from your computer tend to be safer than devices that leave the control in the hands of a youngster.
Model Good Listening Habits
Children learn from watching their parents. You can teach your child good listening behaviors by showing your child that you follow your own advice. Listen to the television, movies and music at a reasonable volume. If the noise on a device is too loud, say out loud why you’re choosing to turn down the volume. By exhibiting these behaviors, you make protecting your hearing a normal part of everyday life. This is a way to set expectations for your child.
Modify Noisy Toys
Not all noisy toys need to be banned or taken away. Some can be modified! Place tape over speaker holes to muffle the sound and protect your child from the noisiest toys. You can also take out batteries and allow your child to play with noisy toys without any sound at all.
Know the Signs of Hearing Loss in Your Child
One of the most important things you can do for your child’s hearing is to get them to an audiologist if they display signs of potential hearing loss. Knowing what to look for can help you decide when it’s time to see a professional. Hearing loss in young children can be especially difficult to identify, unless you know exactly what to watch for.
- Your child sees you before they hear you.
- Your child doesn’t hear sounds at a certain volume or pitch, but other people do.
- Your child prefers to stand very close to the television.
- Your child asks you to repeat your words frequently.
In very young children, lack of startle response to loud noises or inability to say words like “Mama” or “Dada” by one year old could be another indication of a hearing problem. Unclear speech is a common sign of a hearing problem, but can also be a sign of other developmental issues, so see a physician to get a referral if you notice this problem in your child.
What Should I Do If My Child Displays Signs of a Hearing Problem?
To protect your child’s hearing: if you think your child could have a hearing problem, see an audiologist as soon as possible. There are many hearing tests that audiologists use to detect hearing trouble in pediatric patients. Even very young children, age two or younger, can be given a hearing test that can help your child’s pediatric audiologist determine if hearing damage has occurred.
Once your child has had a hearing test, the audiologist may suggest a variety of solutions to help your child improve their hearing. Medical tools like hearing aids and tubes in the ears can correct or help a variety of problems.
Getting your child help at an early age is important. Children with uncorrected hearing problems may struggle academically and socially. You can protect your child’s hearing and their development by getting your child the treatment they need.
1. Center for Hearing and Communication, Statistics and facts about hearing loss – https://chchearing.org/facts-about-hearing-loss/
2. Mayo Clinic, Ear Infection – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ear-infections/symptoms-causes/syc-20351616#:~:text=Ear%20infections%20that%20happen%20again%20and%20again%2C%20or%20fluid%20in,permanent%20hearing%20loss%20may%20occur.
3. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Too Loud, Too Long – https://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/parents/too-loud-too-long#:~:text=Decibel%20Level%E2%80%8B&text=Sounds%20at%20or%20below%2070,greater%20risk%20for%20hearing%20loss.