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Understanding the Threat of Noise

Noise is one of the greatest threats to your child’s hearing. But unlike many causes of hearing loss, preventing hearing damage from noise is largely within our control.

Noise threatens our hearing because we hear sound when delicate hair cells in our inner ears vibrate. This creates nerve signals that the brain understands as sound. If we overload these delicate hair cells with exposure to loud noises, we damage them. This results in sensorineural hearing loss and often tinnitus—or “ringing in the ears.” The hair cells that vibrate most quickly—and that allow us to hear higher-frequency sounds like birds singing and children speaking—usually become damaged, dying first.

Noise in our everyday lives may be damaging even to a child’s hearing, depending on how close the child is to the source of the sound—and for how long. Sirens, trains, airplanes, TVs, MP3 players, stereo systems, power tools, lawn mowers, hair dryers, kitchen blenders, and even some high-volume toys are examples of noise sources we need to monitor in an effort to protect children’s hearing.

Simply, if you need to shout to be heard, it is very likely that the noise you’re experiencing is too loud—and it may be damaging. Ringing in the ears after exposure to noise also is a sign of excessive sound levels.

Teaching the Value of Hearing

The best thing you can do to protect your child from noise is to teach them to value their hearing. Teach your child to understand how loud noises can harm his or her ability to hear. Instill in your child the habit of using earplugs and other forms of ear protection when needed. And teach them to use their fingers to quickly plug their ears when an unexpected loud sound, like a siren, suddenly bombards them—or when other ear protection simply isn’t around. Importantly, teach your child that if he or she must use earbuds or headphones, to keep the volume down and to limit the amount of time they use them.

Above all, be a role model for your child. Show your child that you value your own hearing. Use ear protection yourself when mowing the lawn or using noisy tools or appliances. And insist that your child playing nearby does the same.

For “Your Guide to the Prevention of Hearing Loss from Noise,” click here.

For more information on the signs, causes, and prevention of hearing loss, see Hearingpedia.