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You can help protect your child’s hearing by controlling volume and sound intensity and choosing the right earphones.

Music and sound are part of our daily lives. We listen to music for fun and while we exercise. But we need to be conscious of the volume at which we listen to prevent hearing loss.

“Noise is one of the main contributors to hearing loss,” says Joburg audiologist Melissa Cooper. She says more young people are starting to develop noise-induced hearing loss. The cause? The volume of music coming through earphones as well as consistent exposure to sound that is just too loud and creates cumulative damage.

Sound it out

But figuring out how long to listen to music and at what volume or sound intensity, measured in decibels, can be tricky. To give you an idea, you can listen to noise that is 85 decibels for eight hours a day. This is about the equivalent of heavy traffic or a vacuum cleaner. At 88 decibels, the sound of a hairdryer, you are doubling the sound pressure, so you should halve the listening time. A sound of 91 decibels, equivalent to the hum of a lawnmower, is another doubling, giving you two hours of listening time. Listening to noise for an extended period can also cause hearing fatigue. It’s best to give your ears frequent breaks of peace and quiet.

An earful

Exposure to environmental noise is one thing, but how do we curtail the level of sound we pump into our ears via earphones? It can be difficult to monitor the volume at which children listen to music, so the type of earphones they use is important. Richard Baird, an electronics specialist, points out that there is currently no legislation requiring warnings to be printed on earphones and many do not display the sound intensity capacity on the packaging or say how long you can listen for. Thus there’s no indication of how powerful the earphones are. While MP3 players and other devices often allow you to set a volume limit, if the earphones are very powerful, setting the volume won’t help. So it is best to only use earphones that display warnings and decibels, which should be limited to 85 decibels for children and 91 for adults.

The insert earphones play music directly into the ears, and may produce higher sound levels than other types. Cooper recommends earphones that cover the ears, so there is room for the sound to escape. Noise cancelling earphones that block out background noise mean you don’t have to put the volume up to compensate for external sounds, but they still need to be limited to 85 decibels, and Baird cautions that they can be dangerous if used when you need to be focused on your surroundings.

Signs of hearing loss in children

  • not following instructions
  • struggling to hear in noisy environments such as restaurants
  • a ringing or a buzzing sound in the ears
  • extreme sensitivity to loud noises
  • asking you to repeat things
  • sound and voices appear muffled or unclear
  • turning up the television volume

Treatment options

The hair cells in the ear are damaged by continuous exposure to high noise levels, explains Cooper. This is irreversible and there is no treatment to improve hearing, but hearing aids can be used. Preventative measures and early detection through hearing tests are your best options.

Read more about caring for your hearing health.


Tamlyn Vincent