My son always wears earphones, and I can hear the music even at a distance. Could he be damaging his hearing?
Hear ye, hear ye!
With the widespread popularity of easily downloaded music, TV shows and movies at our fingertips — and portable electronics always on hand — potential hearing damage has become an important issue.
A delay in recognizing hearing loss can lead to language, speech and cognitive delays in children. The earlier the recognition, the lesser these adverse effects. According to the National Institutes of Health, continued exposure to noise levels at 85 decibels or greater puts people at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Although it is difficult to judge the volume of the sound coming from earphones, 85 decibels can be compared to noise from heavy city traffic.
Another sign that the volume is too high is being able to hear clearly the music or game noises coming from earbuds worn by children and teens. You can find sound rulers on the Internet as well.
Hair cells within the ear — which are responsible for carrying sound — are damaged with repeated exposure to harmful noises, or with one-time exposure to very loud noises (such as an explosion). Unfortunately, these hair cells do not regenerate.
Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and worsens over time, but is preventable. The best protection is keeping the volume of music, television sets and video games down and avoiding lengthy time in a noisy environment. Teach your child to carry and use earplugs often — during concerts, movies, sporting events and whenever it feels as though the noise is louder than that of city traffic. Consider purchasing a decibel meter to carry around or use in your home. As children listen to music through their earphones, they should keep it low enough to be aware of their surroundings. They should be able to hear outside noises such as traffic, an ambulance or someone calling them to prevent an emergency situation.
Your ear canal is a direct entry system into your body and, therefore, is important to protect. Keep your earbuds clean to prevent infection. One way to ensure cleanliness is to keep them in a case so they don’t get thrown to the bottom of a purse or backpack, where germs may live. When cleaning earbuds, avoid soaps and cleaning solutions, which may cause damage. Use a cotton ball moistened (not wet) with a very small amount of isopropyl alcohol or water, followed by a dry, fine-bristled toothbrush to get into the tiny holes. Make sure earbuds are unplugged before they are cleaned and dried completely prior to being used.
After initial newborn screening, your child’s healthcare provider will test your child’s hearing periodically from ages 4 through 11. In addition, many schools follow recommendations for screening by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP recommends hearing screening upon entry into schools, at 6, 8 and 10 years old, and at least once during middle and high school. However, if at any time you are wondering if your child has a hearing issue, his primary care office can perform a test. If there is an abnormality, your child will be referred to an audiologist, where further testing will be completed. The faster a hearing loss is detected and a child can be treated, the better the outcome.
Sarah Gosian, RN, CCRN, is an RN with five years of experience in pediatric critical care. She is nearing the end of her studies and will soon be a Pediatric Primary Care/Acute Care Nurse Practitioner.