There’s no getting around it: We live in a noisy world. Everywhere we go, we encounter noise levels that are above the threshold of what would be considered safe.
After declining around the beginning of the new millennium, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is on the rise again, especially among kids. In fact, while about 10% of millennials have measurable NIHL, about 17% of Gen-Z does. This is especially concerning since Gen-Z is the younger of the two generations.
About Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)
Noise exposure causes hearing loss not only based on the decibel level (loudness) of a sound, but on the duration of exposure. Sounds as low as 85 dBA (decibels A-weighted) can cause hearing loss after about 8 hours in adults, but that figure may be closer to 75 dBA for small children. While 75 dBA is a little bit louder than a group conversation, 85 dBA is about the volume level you experience while cutting the grass with a gas-powered mower.
For every additional 3 dBA of sound, the amount of time before hearing loss sets in is cut in half. That means at 100 dBA, only about 15 minutes can cause hearing loss. 100 dBA is about the noise level you experience while riding a motorcycle, and it is the average volume of a high school dance.
Sound doesn’t become painful to the ear until about 120 dBA. At that level, hearing loss can happen immediately, but as you can see there is still cause for concern at much lower levels.
NIHL and Personal Listening Devices (PLDs)
Personal listening devices, or “PLDs,” like Apple’s iPhone, should not be too much of a cause for alarm as long as the volume level they’re set to is safe. Unfortunately, it is very easy to exceed a safe volume level, for a number of reasons.
- The maximum volume an iPhone can reach is 102 dBA, which can cause hearing loss in about 10 minutes of listening. (Other devices may vary.)
- Depending on the earphones used, background sound may be contributing to the aggregate sound level experienced by the listener. If we have to turn up our PLDs in order to hear the desired content over the rushing roar inside an airplane cabin, for example, we may quickly reach dangerous levels.
- We get used to a certain sound level over time. Some people may tend to slowly increase the volume as their ears adjust to the previous volume, and soon may be listening at dangerous levels.
- Kids, especially, are vulnerable to chasing the rush of excitement that can come from listening to music at loud volumes. This puts them at a special risk for using PLDs unsafely.
How to Protect Kids from Loud Noise
Safe listening is an important project for everyone, but especially for very young children whose ears are more easily damaged by loud sound.
- Model Good Behavior – Keep your listening at safe levels. Mention it when something seems too loud, and eliminate the sound if possible. Wear hearing protection when necessary, and announce that you’re doing so. Cover your ears when there is a temporary loud sound present, and tell your kids to do the same.
- Provide Hearing Protection – Whenever loud sound is present, provide hearing protection for your kids and help them to use it correctly.
- Use a Meter – You can download an SPL (sound pressure level) meter app for your smartphone, or purchase a dedicated device. Measure environmental sound to determine whether it is safe, and tell your kids what you’re doing.
- Headphones for Kids – Rather than giving your kids earbuds or headphones appropriate for adults, get them a set of special volume-limiting headphones for kids. Be aware, though, that some of these headphones can still reach levels that are not safe for long-term listening.
- Consider Noise-Canceling Tech – Noise-canceling headphones help reduce the likelihood of NIHL by reducing the level of background sound we experience. When there’s less background sound, we can hear desired content more comfortably at lower volume settings on our PLDs.
- Encourage Listening Breaks – Have your kids remove their headphones for 5 minutes at least every hour or so. Listening breaks help our ears readjust to quiet, so they’ll be less likely to increase the volume. They also give our ears a chance to reset, reducing the likelihood that hearing loss will set in.
- Teach Your Kids About Noise – Have a conversation about the dangers of noise, and let them know the warning signs to watch out for, such as pain or ringing in the ears.
If you are interested to know more about how to protect kids from loud sound, or want to make a hearing test appointment for yourself or your kids, contact us today!