Our children’s hearing is something us parents often take for granted. Most parents think about it during the newborn screening test and when your baby passes this test, we normally don’t give their hearing a second thought. However, your child’s ears and hearing can be damaged, gradually or suddenly, even without you knowing it. If your child hurts it’s eye, you’ll definitely notice, especially if there’s a visible cut. On the other hand, damaged hearing or dysfunctional inner ears are not as obvious. As parents, it should be our first priority to make sure our children are safe and healthy, and this should include being conscious of their sense of hearing.
Facts about hearing
Let’s review how our ears work. Soundwaves are carried by the environment into the ear until they reach the eardrum. Then the eardrum passes the vibrations to the inner ear, also known as the cochlea. Inside this are thousands of tiny hair cells that change the vibrations into signals that are sent to the brain.
Your brain then tells you that you are hearing a sound and what sound it is. That’s how our sense of hearing works when everything is in working order. When the hair cells or the hearing nerve become damaged, hearing loss occurs.
Next, let’s talk about how we measure sound, noise, and their effects on our children. The loudness of a sound is measured in decibels or dB. The human ear can hear any sound above 0 decibels. The higher the decibel, the louder the sound. There are safe levels of sound, sounds that cause gradual hearing loss over time, and dangerously loud sounds that can cause permanent hearing loss. Some common examples of sounds and their corresponding decibels are:
Quiet countryside – 20 decibels
Whispered voice – 30 decibels
Normal conversation – 60 decibels
Vacuum cleaner – 70 decibels
Anything 85 decibels and louder can cause hearing damage over time:
Busy restaurant – 90 decibels
Lawnmowers – 90 decibels
Motorcycle – 95 decibels
Helicopter – 105 decibels
Dangerous levels of noise are 110 decibels and above:
Portable music players at maximum level – 115 decibels
Jackhammer – 120 decibels
Jet plane take off – 120 decibels
Ambulance siren – 120 decibels
Engine – 140 decibels
When your child is consistently exposed to noise that is 80-85 decibels and louder, their hearing may be affected over time. It might not seem obvious at first but if hearing is constantly exposed to unsafe sounds, this will damage hearing in the long run. For example, exposure to subway or motorcycle sounds on a daily basis can eventually cause hearing loss in your child.
If you’re a restaurant owner and you bring your baby to work every night (without protective baby earmuffs), you’re exposing your baby to sounds around 90 decibels which can cause damage to a baby’s sensitive ears. On the other hand, exposure to dangerously loud levels (110 decibels and above), even just at one time and for more than one-minute long, can instantly cause permanent hearing loss. We should always be aware of what kinds of noise can possibly be damaging to your child’s hearing.
Levels of hearing loss
There are varying degrees of hearing loss, ranging from slight to profound. If your child can only hear sounds that are 30 decibels and above, they are considered to have mild hearing loss. Moderate hearing loss is when a person can only hear sounds that are closer to 50 decibels or louder. Noise-induced hearing loss, or hearing loss caused by the environment, can be temporary or permanent. Children exposed to loud noise over a prolonged period of time are at risk of damaging their hearing.
Signs of hearing loss
Because our child’s hearing is not seen by the naked eye, for example, compared to a cut or wound on an arm, we need to be aware of the signs of hearing loss in our children. Aside from learning about what sounds can be damaging, we should know common signs of hearing loss.
Symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss are:
- Ringing in the ears (also known as tinnitus)
- Trouble hearing soft or faint sounds
- A normal conversation may sound muffled or unclear
- Trouble understanding people when spoken to
An older child might start asking you to repeat the question you just asked. They might also start having difficulties in school due to misunderstanding or not hearing the teacher correctly. These are some warning signs that your child’s hearing may be damaged, especially if these signs were not present before.
When you notice these symptoms, it’s best to bring up your concerns with your family doctor. After an initial consultation with him, he will refer you to a specialist like an audiologist or ENT to do hearing tests on your child to determine what kind of help your child needs.
How to prevent hearing loss
First, all parents should be conscious of the kind of noise you allow your child to be exposed to. As mentioned above, there are varying levels of noise and we should do our best to maintain safe levels around our children. Although you can’t always control the environment around you, you can make sure you and your child are prepared.
For example, if you need to bring your young baby to a family party that will have dozens of guests, make sure that his ears are well-protected by baby earmuffs. Try not to stay longer than necessary. Also, trust your instincts. If something is loud for you, it will definitely be too loud for your child. Prevention is always better than cure, and this includes taking care of your child’s hearing.