Hearing Conservation

What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

We live in a noisy world and dangerously loud sounds are all around us from many sources.  Loud and repeated sound exposure can permanently damage your child’s hearing and cause hearing loss and/or tinnitus (aka ringing in the ears). The risk of hearing damage increases with louder sounds, higher volume settings, and longer listening times and it is also cumulative (increases over time). Loud and possibly dangerous sounds may include:

  • Personal music players
  • Power tools and farm machinery
  • Music concerts
  • Sporting events
  • Video games
  • Shooting sports
  • Fireworks
  • Motorcycles and ATVs 
  • Car races 
  • Go-karts 

Sign and Symptoms of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Since noise-induced hearing loss can occur over time, your child may or may not be experiencing immediate symptoms. Possible symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss include:

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Temporary muffled hearing after a loud noise exposure
  • Pain or fullness feeling in the ears after a loud noise exposure
  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Heightened sensitivity to loud sounds

What Can You Do to Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Hearing damage from noisy work and leisure activities is often thought of as an adult problem, but noise-induced hearing loss affects an estimated one in six children by the end of their teenage years. Since this type of injury is entirely preventable, it is important for parents and caregivers to know how to protect their child’s hearing.

Parents and caregivers can model healthy hearing habits for children:

  • Try to choose the lowest comfortable listening level in every situation
  • Move away from loud or bothersome sound sources
  • When engaging in a loud activity, have children wear age-appropriate hearing protection. Earmuffs that are tailored to children's smaller heads are available in kid-friendly colors and graphics. For infants and small children who may not tolerate traditional earmuffs, adjustable elastic head-band style earmuffs may work well.
  • Set time limits for potentially loud activities. Since loud sounds damage hearing over time, reducing the amount of time spent listening to a loud sound will reduce the risk of developing hearing damage.

When selecting headphones for a child, note that all personal listening devices can produce dangerously loud sound levels but certain types of earphones and headphones are designed to support healthier listening habits:

  • Noise-isolating earphones. Earbud style (noise-isolating) earphones allow the listener to enjoy music listening at lower volumes when in the presence of loud background noise (i.e., in a subway, train, or airport). Because these earphones work so well, it is important to pay extra attention to surroundings to stay safe.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones. Active electronic noise-cancelling headphones may make listening more comfortable when in noisy places, but these products do not assure a safe overall listening level.
  • Output-limiting earphones. Earphones that limit the maximum sound level are commercially available and often marketed to parents as “safe children’s earphones”. Most products have been shown to function as indicated, however parental supervision is required to ensure proper use and listening habits.

Safe Music Listening Facts and Tips

  • The risk of hearing loss increases with higher volume settings and longer listening times.
  • Try to choose the lowest comfortable listening level in every situation.
  • Take frequent listening breaks to rest the ears.
  • Use the “Arm’s Length Rule.” If your child cannot hear a person speaking to them at an arm’s length away while the music is playing, the music may be too loud.
  • All types of earphones can be set at dangerously loud levels, but all types of earphones can also be used safely. The danger is not with the type of earphones, but in the way that they are used.
  • Do not use music earphones instead of earplugs to “drown out” loud noises, such as lawn mowers or construction equipment. They are not made to protect the ears and can increase the risk for developing hearing problems.

Hearing Conservation Services at CHOP

At the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Audiologists complete comprehensive evaluations of your child’s hearing and listening needs. Together with you, your child, referring physicians and other caregivers, we will help you better understand your child’s hearing symptoms and create a customized care plan, which may include:

  • Hearing wellness and hearing loss prevention education
  • Custom hearing protection device fitting and verification
  • Personal music player listening habit assessment
  • Tinnitus evaluation and management
  • Audiologic evaluation and monitoring

Remember, noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable! Learn more about healthy hearing