Since the COVID-19 onset, kids are spending time in front of a screen or listening to music more than usual. Most experts agree that some extra screen time right now isn’t going to do permanent damage to our kids—if we dial it back again when everyday life resumes.
However, one thing that could damage them long-term is the overuse of headphones or earbuds. Hearing loss can happen slowly and subtly over time—by the time you realize it’s a problem, it’s too late. There are a few things to consider when using headphones that can profoundly affect the damage they can do to you or your child’s ears.
Turn Down The Volume
The most obvious thing to consider when determining whether your child is using headphones is how loud the volume is. In general, 85 decibels is about the loudest volume that is safe to hear for a limited time.
Eighty-five decibels are about the volume of heavy city traffic or a gas-powered lawnmower.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anything over 70 decibels—the noise level that a typical washing machine or dishwasher would make—can be damaging over a prolonged period.
Most smartphones, tablets, and other personal listening devices can reach 105-110 decibels at a maximum volume, which the CDC says can cause hearing loss in fewer than five minutes.
As a general rule, if either volume or duration goes up, the other should go down. It is also important to remember that noise is cumulative—it’s not just about how loud someone is listening to music, but it’s also what they hear over a day.
Also, noise exposure is cumulative. If a headphone-loving child also practices the drums, mows the lawn, and goes to a concert, the day’s noise dose soars.
An unknown factor is an individual’s susceptibility. It’s impossible to predict whose ears are tough and whose are tender.
It’s also important to consider the type of headphones your kids may be using. Not all headphones are created equal when it comes to volume and safety. For maximum protection, it’s best to get your kids special children’s headphones, which typically cap the decibel limit at 85.
By comparison, most usually cap volume at around 110. Even with the volume cap, your kids should not listen to music on full volume with these headphones for an extended period.
Noise Canceling Headphones
Another option is noise-canceling headphones, which eliminate background noise, making it easier for a child to hear what they’re listening to without having to raise the volume too high.
However, since these headphones are so good at eliminating background noise, you must know when your kids are using them. For example, if your child is walking or riding his or her bike somewhere, the noise-canceling headphones may distract the child from warning background noises.
It can be hard to gauge whether a volume is 70 decibels, 75 decibels, or if the volume is creeping toward the more dangerous 85 decibels. Suppose you want to be sure they’re listening at a safe volume. In that case, Dr. Sharon Sandridge, director of clinical services in audiology at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends using the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App to measure it. The app is only available on iOS, but there are similar apps available for iOS and Android.
If you don’t feel like downloading an app, you can test whether the headphone volume is too loud by talking to your child in a normal speaking voice at an arm’s length away. If they can’t hear you, it’s too loud. Also, if you can hear sounds coming from their headphones at that distance, it’s too loud.
Does Your Child Already Have Hearing Loss?
But how can you tell if your child is already showing signs of hearing loss? Dr. Brian Fligor, a pediatric audiologist in Boston, says that you may notice your child asking, “What?” too often if a hearing problem is already there. In addition, he says any ear symptoms, including ringing, muffling, fullness, fluttering, thumping, sensitivity, distortion, or pain—even if temporary—should be taken seriously.
“They mean you have had a warning shot to your hearing,” Dr. Fligor said. “Hearing can be taken away fairly easily, and there is no fix for that.”
Fligor says parents should have their child’s hearing tested at least every three years to catch any problems.
Hearing loss doesn’t mean things sound softer. It implies that communicating is more challenging — people can hear, but they can’t understand. Speech sounds muffled, or music may sound dull. Conversations turn from effortless to burdensome.
If you believe your child may be suffering from hearing loss, it is vital to seek help immediately. Something as simple as a quick hearing evaluation can be the difference between stopping your child’s hearing loss in its tracks or having it worse.
If you live in the Las Vegas area, consider using Hearing Associates of Las Vegas for all your and your child’s hearing needs. Locally based, we can help make your journey to healthy hearing a painless one.