Headphones & your child’s hearing

It may seem at times like headphones are a natural extension of your child’s ears. But the question is — Are those headphones hurting his or her hearing?

The short answer: Probably so, at least on some level.

As a child grows and develops, his or her ears require protection from sounds that an adult’s ears could handle. That means that while you might be able to listen to music in your headphones without an issue, your child doing the same could damage his or her hearing.

Hearing loss in kids is a growing and significant issue. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that between 1994 and 2006, the rate of hearing loss in adolescents rose from 14.9 percent to 19.5 percent. That’s nearly one in five adolescents with some level of hearing loss. The incidence rate has likely increased even more since then.

So, what can be can be done to help protect your little ones’ hearing from noise-related damage? We have four suggestions.

  1. Choose safe But there’s a caveat here. While you want to choose headphones that offer volume-limiting technology, many brands that advertise that feature don’t actually protect the ears.

In fact, a study of children’s headphones found that 30 sets of those headphones did not restrict volume to safe levels. In some cases, the volume was still loud enough to cause damage to ears within minutes.  

Look for headphones that limit volume to 85 decibels — but be sure to read through product reviews and analysis to make certain the ones you’re choosing actually practice what they preach.

  1. Put limits on headphone use. Hearing loss is usually cumulative, rather than sudden.

The human ears were made to safely handle volumes up to 70 decibels. For much of history, few noises exceeded that mark. But today, we’re exposed to all sorts of loud noise, including vehicles, lawn equipment, crowds at a football game — and music playing from headphones.

If your child is listening to music through headphones (or for that matter, if you are), the World Health Organization recommends listening at no more than 85 decibels for no longer than 60 minutes at a time.

  1. Pay attention to other noise, as well. While music through headphones often exceeds recommended levels, other sounds do, too.It wouldn’t hurt to turn down the volume on nearly every aspect of our daily lives — including the TV and the radio. Even just turning them down slightly can help reduce the risk of cumulative hearing loss.
  2. Use hearing protectors in loud environments. You’ve probably seen small children wearing what look like giant headphones at sporting events. There’s an important purpose behind them.

While you can safely listen to louder noises for small periods of time, your kids’ ears are more sensitive. Hearing protectors can help keep noise from damaging their hearing.

There are two main kinds of hearing protectors — earplugs and ear muffs. Earplugs fit into the ear canal and help “turn down” or block noise.

Ear muffs, on the other hand, look like giant headphones. They fit over the ears and are designed to block out noise. Because they don’t go in the ears, ear muffs may be an easier option with small children.

Concerned about your child’s hearing? Talk with your pediatrician at your child’s next appointment. Find a pediatrician here.