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Protecting your children’s hearing

A child’s hearing is highly sensitive and prone to damage from loud noises. Children are particularly vulnerable because damage to their ear drums at an early age will inhibit development in later life; the risk of this happening is every parent’s nightmare.

Despite these problems being fortunately confined to the few, developments in technology and changes in cultural norms are creating more risks than ever before.

Parents therefore need to be aware of these risks and be able to identify circumstances which might put their child in danger. They can then develop strategies which prevent hearing damage from becoming a reality.

As illustrated below, the risks associated with hearing loss depend on the level of noise and the exposure time. 85db is the threshold for safe or dangerous noise and an increase of 10db is equivalent to being twice as loud. Sustained amounts of loud noise can be just as damaging as a sudden burst of sound and it is often the former that goes unnoticed by parents over a long period of time.

Protect Your Child's Hearing

For younger children, the risks are more often associated with unexpected sources of loud noise. Fireworks, particularly when used in the setting of a back garden, can be particularly dangerous for the ears, producing a maximum exposure of 140dB. Care should be taken to ensure that children are far enough away from the source.

Noisy toys, football matches and watching motorsports can also create short-medium blasts of sound which should be limited to periods of two hours or below, along with exposure to industrial noise from road works, loud vehicles or machinery.

MP3 players are clearly the hottest current topic of concern. Around 76 per cent of children between the ages of 8-18 own an MP3 player and 25 per cent of people using such a device do so loud enough to cause long term hearing damage. Maximum noise levels can reach 115db, which is deemed a safe level of sound for the equivalent of about five Justin Bieber hits.

Parents are advised to monitor children’s use of MP3 players and adjust the maximum volume limit to remove louder settings. Limit periods of listening to shorter periods with breaks in between.

Other musically related risks can be associated with instruments, gigs and festivals. Teenagers attending music concerts will put their ears at risk the closer and longer they stand near speaker systems, with sound levels ranging from 110-120dB. Restraint should be encouraged with regular breaks and ear plug use. Instrument use should also be limited to one or two hour exposure, or fifteen minutes for the clarinet or trombone.

Fortunately there are safe activities which children can still perform without damaging their ears. Washing machines and vacuum cleaners are fine, so why not encourage housework now and again?!

In reality, for older children, it becomes more and more difficult to monitor and influence their behaviour all of the time. However, through adequate education they will develop a firm platform with which to make responsible decisions.

Permission to go to a gig should go with the caveat of wearing earplugs when noise is considered dangerous. Children do not need to give up the pastimes they enjoy to help mitigate risks, just encourage that they take precautions; don’t make an enemy out of yourself, make noise the nemesis instead.

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