I was recently asked by a parent who took her young daughter
to a small children's fitness facility in a "strip mall" if that music was
hurting her daughter's hearing. The music was too loud for her ears, so she
was concerned - and rightfully so - for her daughter's hearing. The class
lasted one hour -- so what is a safe level for her?
This is an important and timely question. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is not only preventable, but it is quickly becoming a leading cause of hearing loss in children. A government survey revealed that 12.5% of children ages 6 to 19 (approximately 5.2 million children) have permanent damage caused by exposure to loud noises. It is generally considered that prolonged exposure to sounds greater than 85 dB can cause hearing loss. To give you an idea of what 85 dB is...an average vacuum cleaner or hair dryer is about 80 dB; a blender is about 90 dB. Many devices that children use today have noise levels much higher than 85 dB. For example, an MP3 player at maximum level is roughly 105 dB. Sounds at 100 dB can cause damage after 15 minutes of unprotected exposure. Sounds at 110 dB can cause permanent hearing loss after just one minute of exposure. Even with younger children, many toys are loud enough to cause permanent damage.
Children's hearing is particularly sensitive. While the inner ear is completely developed at birth, the ear canal is much smaller, therefore sounds entering the ear canal become louder because they develop in a smaller space. That can translate into as much as a 20 dB difference between adult and children's ears; thus, children's ears can be damaged more easily than adults' hearing. So, if a parent thinks a sound is too loud, it is even louder for the child.
There are many things that can be done to prevent hearing loss from noise exposure. First off all, if your child is old enough, discuss the dangers of listening to loud music, especially with that IPod turned all the way to Max. Listen to your child's toys especially before you buy them. If they sound loud to you, they are even louder to your child. Also, be aware of those activities - such as concerts, movies, etc., - that can cause damage to children's hearing. Encourage the use of hearing protection in these instances. Teach children the proper volume at which to listen to music (less than 85 dB hearing level) and monitor their use.