Portable audio players are everyday accessories for many of today's kids, from preschoolers to teens, who plug in their headphones and jam to their favorite tunes whenever and wherever they can.
But a lot of kids are turning the volume up way too high, which can take a huge toll on their hearing. In fact, more than 5 million 6- to 19-year-olds have noise-induced hearing loss, often simply because they don't keep their music's volume to a minimum.
That's why the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) has started a public awareness campaign, "Turn It to the Left," to help kids realize that they're putting their hearing on the line when they crank up music too loud. Luckily, though, noise-induced hearing loss, especially in kids and teens, is a problem that can easily be prevented.
Kids need to be able to hear their very best in order to develop and use their speech, social, learning, and listening skills. Even a mild or partial hearing loss can affect a child's ability to speak and understand language.
Temporary hearing loss can happen after kids have been exposed to loud noise for any period of time. They also may experience ringing in the ears (called tinnitus) and/or a feeling of their ears being "full."
With temporary hearing loss, hearing frequently returns to normal. But kids can suffer permanent hearing loss when they're exposed to loud noise (like blaring music, especially through headphones) daily or over a long period of time. That's an enormous price to pay for enjoying some good tunes.
On top of listening to loud music, the AAA says other common culprits of hearing loss include:
- lawn mowers
- farm equipment
- power tools (like chainsaws)
- sporting events
- band or shop classes
- movie theaters
Even certain toys can hurt kids' hearing. In fact, the noise of some rattles, squeaky toys, and musical or electronic toys can be as loud as a car horn — even louder if a child holds it directly to the ears — and can contribute to hearing damage.
What This Means to You
According to the AAA, there's one surefire way to gauge if your kids are being exposed to potentially damaging noise — if you or they have to shout to be heard from 3 feet away, that's far too loud.
So, here are some things the organization says you can do to help protect your children's ears:
- Make sure they turn down the volume whenever they listen to music, especially while wearing headphones or riding in the car.
- Buy portable media or music players with "volume limiters" (they may come with the device or can be bought separately).
- Encourage your kids to give their ears a rest once in a while if they don headphones all the time.
- Have them wear ear protection (earplugs or earmuffs) when using machinery — like in metal or wood shop at school, or while mowing the lawn.
- Ask them to consider wearing earplugs at concerts, especially if they're sitting anywhere near the stage or speakers. They'll still be able to hear the music — it just won't be as deafening. And they don't need to worry about their image — most earplugs are so tiny that no one will even notice they're there.
- Turn on toys to check out their volume. If you hold it up to your ears and it hurts, don't buy it. If it's already in your kids' toy bin, take out the batteries and/or put tape over the speakers, says the U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs).
- Emphasize the importance of moving away from any noise that's uncomfortable.
And even kids who seem to have normal hearing should be evaluated regularly at checkups throughout their lives. In addition to newborn hearing screening, which is standard in most states, kids usually get hearing tests again at ages 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, and 18 years old — and at other times if there's a concern.
Of course talk to the doctor if, at any time, your kids show some of these common signs of hearing problems:
- difficulty hearing in general (other people's speech may sound muffled or be hard to understand)
- temporary difficulty hearing after experiencing loud noises
- speech development doesn't seem right or speech is tough to understand
- ringing in the ears
For kids of all ages, taking these precautions can prevent hearing damage or stop it from getting worse.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2008