Rainbows’ Audiologist Ellen Quinn answers the second most common question she is asked, usually from parents of tweens and teens. “Can loud music damage my child’s hearing? I can hear the music coming through my child’s earbuds and I keep telling them to turn the music down!”
The short answer is YES…excessively loud sounds can damage a child’s hearing, or anyone’s hearing for that matter. Though there are several activities that pose a risk to ears and hearing, the two most common offenders in the young population are music concerts and shooting, regardless of the genre of music and regardless of whether shooting for hunting or recreational purposes. Either can produce permanent hearing loss, commonly referred to as noise induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Can a child incur NIHL from listening to music on their personal audio device? YES, if the volume is frequently too loud, too often. With earbuds and headphones, a good rule of thumb to use if this: If you are several feet away and you can hear what your child is listening to coming out of the earbuds/headphones, the volume is too loud. When counseling tweens and teens, I say they should be able to monitor the sounds in their immediate environment while streaming music via earbuds/headphones. When walking down the street, they should be able to hear the cars on the road, and anyone walking up behind them. Personally, I find this is rarely the case. It is not just a matter of protecting hearing but a matter of personal safety as well. The same rule applies to all, regardless of age.
Is there anything that can be done to protect hearing? YES, there is!
- The best way to protect hearing from noise induced hearing loss, be it your child’s or your own, is to turn the volume down to a reasonable level on personal audio devices and use some sort of hearing protection device (HPD) for concerts and shooting. Investing in good, quality hearing protection is well worth the money. Most professional musicians use some form of hearing protection nowadays, including die-hard rockers in bands like the Rolling Stones and AC/DC. HPDs can be purchased at sporting goods stores or online at many e-commerce sites.
- For use with firearms, look for HPDs with the highest noise reduction ratings (NRR), keeping in mind the higher the number the better. The NRR will typically be well displayed on the packaging and look something like this: NRR 28dB or NRR 34dB. For shooting, I recommend double protection so look for both earplugs and earmuffs with high NRRs, ones that are designed specifically for shooting. A quick Google search for “Ear protection for Hunting and Shooting” will yield many good, readily available options. A box of disposable earplugs can be purchased for less than $20 and a set of quality earmuffs for $30-$50.
- I also recommend using earplugs or earmuffs when operating loud hand tools and lawn equipment. If your child is enrolled in a school-based wood shop or mechanic program, hearing protection is probably being provided by the school. If not, I recommend purchasing earplugs or earmuffs for use in those types of classes.
- Lastly, for children involved in bands at school, particularly marching bands, I recommend looking into musician’s earplugs, designed specifically for use by musicians. If your child is serious about playing in a band and perhaps pursuing a career in music, I recommend getting the best ear protection you can afford. You can talk with a licensed audiologist about custom made options or research pre-made options online. Talking with local musicians about their preferences for HPDs is another suggestion.
Remember, it’s never too early to start protecting those ears!
By Ellen Quinn, Audiologist