Photo credit: August de Richelieu
by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
As reporter Melissa Willets notes, parents try to protect their children from hazards such as secondhand smoke and sunburns, but until now they weren’t aware of the dangers of noise exposure for children. Now, thanks to the Academy, perhaps they are more aware.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no studies correlating noise exposure with hearing loss in children. It would be unethical, and illegal in the United States, to conduct such studies. Any recommendations for children’s noise exposure are derived from occupational noise exposure recommendations. But these noise exposure levels don’t prevent hearing loss in workers and certainly aren’t safe for children.
Unfortunately, the 85-decibel level, derived directly from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s recommended exposure level for occupational noise, is often used as a safe noise exposure limit for children as young as 3, without a specified exposure time. The World Health Organization recommends only one hour at 85 A-weighted* decibels when using headphones to prevent hearing loss in adults.
I give the same advice for parents trying to protect their children’s auditory health as I do for everyone: If it sounds loud, it’s too loud and the listener’s auditory health is at risk. Auditory health includes tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (a sensitivity to loud noise that doesn’t bother others). Research has shown that children as young as 9 who use personal listening devices have more auditory abnormalities than children who don’t use these devices, and that about 90% of Belgian high school juniors have tinnitus.
To parents or grandparents looking for a safe set of headphones for their little darlings, I often say that looking for safe headphones is like looking for a safe cigarette: you won’t find one! Good hearing is important for learning in school, social interaction and success in higher education and subsequent careers. I’m glad that parents may now be more aware of the dangers of noise.
*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.