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Better Hearing & Speech Month: Tips for Keeping Loud Devices from Damaging Kids' Hearing

May 2021


With 1.1 billion young people worldwide at risk of hearing loss from unsafe use of personal audio devices and exposure to noisy activities, Florence 1 Schools audiologist Susan Wentzel is reminding parents of simple ways they can help their children protect their hearing as we head into the summer season. The message is a timely one, as May is recognized nationally as Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM).

"Summer is always a time of heightened risk for kids since they have more free time on their hands time they often use for gaming, scrolling TikTok, or streaming music on their devices, often with earbuds or headphones in or on their ears," Wentzel said. "This year, hearing experts are especially concerned, as many kids have already spent a full school year online, using devices for 6 or more hours per day for educational purposes alone. The amount of time spent listening, coupled with volume, are the two factors that can put a person's hearing at risk."

Children may be in danger of developing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL is completely preventable, but once it occurs, it is irreversible. Although NIHL can develop from one excessively loud noise event, such as being near a loud burst of sound, it more frequently occurs as a cumulative effect from noise exposure over time.

The World Health Organization recommends children spend no more than 40 hours listening to a personal audio device per week, at levels no higher than 75 decibels, to prevent permanent hearing damage. Many electronic devices reach volumes above 100 decibels, and even headphones marketed as "kid-safe" routinely exceed 85 or 90 decibels. This makes ongoing vigilance important.
Wentzel advises that these simple steps will help protect children's hearing:

  1. Turn the volume down (even on "volume-limiting" products). Some headphones claim to have maximum noise output levels that won't damage hearing however studies have shown that these claims aren't always reliable and offer a false sense of security. The best bet is for kids to keep the volume at half level.

  2. Use noise-canceling earbuds/headphones. Noise-canceling earbuds or headphones can reduce the need to crank up the volume and help kids hear better by drowning out external noise.

  3. Take regular listening breaks. Encourage kids to give their ears a rest and take hourly breaks, even if just for a few minutes. The potential for hearing damage hinges on how long a person listens as much as how loud they listen.

  4. Model safe use. Practice what you preach by watching your own volume and taking other prevention steps. You'll set a good example and protect your own hearing, too.