Did you know that some toys are so loud that they can damage your child’s hearing? Although noise levels regularly above 70 decibels can cause hearing loss over time, some toy sirens and squeaky rubber toys can emit sounds of 90 decibels. When children hold noisy toys to their ear, as they often do, the eardrum can be exposed to as much as 120 decibels of sound, a damaging dose – the same as a jet plane taking off. Noise at this level is painful and can result in permanent hearing loss.
No wonder that approximately 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. Commonly associated with the aging process, hearing loss also affects children. Hearing is not only a requisite for speech and language development, it’s vitally important to social interaction, academic and job performance, and mental health. Although completely preventable, once hearing loss occurs, it is irreversible. For all these reasons, parents would be wise to not only limit their children’s exposure to inappropriate noise levels but to also teach them how to protect their hearing.
In addition to the dangers posed by toys or listening to music or movies through ear buds or headphones at elevated volumes and for too long, hearing loss can result from ear infections, trauma to the inner ear, and certain medications. But noise, the most controllable and preventable, is the most prevalent cause because it’s everywhere. Many restaurants are specifically designed to elevate noise levels to make them feel more energetic. Similarly, some sports stadiums have been built with sound elevation in mind, thought to improve the fan experience and serve as a home-team advantage. Concerts, movie theaters, amusement centers, video games and your home entertainment system or car stereo also pose risks to your child’s hearing.
Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can protect your child’s – and your own – hearing. These include:
Wear hearing protection. Earplugs and earmuffs are inexpensive, portable, and when properly fitted, offer excellent hearing protection. Bring them along when you know you or your child will be in a noisy setting. Better yet, keep them with you at all times!
Inspect toys for danger. Toys that pose a noise danger include cap guns, talking dolls, vehicles with horns and sirens, walkie-talkies, musical instruments, toy vacuums, and toys with cranks. Prior to purchasing a toy, listen to it. Also examine toys already at home and discard them or remove their batteries if they are too noisy.
Reduce exposure to noisy settings. Visit noisy establishments during off times, consider quieter settings, and talk to managers if you find the noise level uncomfortable.
See a certified audiologist. Signs of hearing loss can vary. In children, some speech and language delays can be a sign. Other signs include your child asking you or others to repeat a statement, or he or she leaves words out of sentences, responds inappropriately to questions or discussions, complains that people mumble, or frequently raises the TV volume. If your child exhibits one or more of these signs, you can address your concerns with your pediatrician, who may refer you to a certified audiologist for a hearing evaluation.
Finally, don't forget to teach you child the value of his or her hearing – and how to protect it.
Joanne Summer, MA, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist based in Morristown, NJ, has helped hundreds of children improve their speech sound production and language skills. She founded Well Spoken Speech Therapy, LLC, in 2014 after spending 12 years providing therapy to children (K-5) in the New Jersey public school system. In private practice, her clients also include younger children and adolescents. In addition, she treats people of all ages who stutter or otherwise find it difficult to speak fluently—an area in which she has received extensive specialized training.