HEARING IS PRECIOUS
My one child seemed to instinctively avoid loud noises, but my other one will stand right in front of the television or even turn the music on really loud. I worry about him damaging his ears. What should I do to protect my child’s hearing? And how would I know if he has already damaged his ears?
Dr Dirk Koekemoer answers: As adults, we’re more accustomed to the noises around us – and also better informed on how to manage excessive noise. However, children are not, which makes them vulnerable to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), if the adults around them don’t protect and educate them.
NIHL happens when the tiny hair cells in the inner ear are damaged by exposure to excessive noise, reducing their ability to communicate with the brain. In fact, noise damages hearing in similar ways to ageing, speeding up the wear and tear on those precious hair cells. Once those hair cells are damaged, they can’t regenerate or be repaired.
So how loud is too loud? Sound is measured in decibels (dB), with regular speech registering at around 60 dB. A hairdryer registers at around 80 dB and is still acceptable, while a rock concert and chainsaw both register at around 115 dB – definitely beyond recommended levels. And while our children may love to watch fireworks, these noisy spectacles register at around 145 dB and inflict the same kind of auditory damage that a gunshot would.
Hearing loss causes complications far beyond the burden of not being able to hear. It causes stress that manifests in all kinds of symptoms including high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, irritability and even upset stomachs, as well as impacting negatively on children’s ability to learn speech, vocabulary and reading. Trouble with speech also impacts on their social skills and confidence.
While you can’t control every environment your children visit, it is possible to take measures to protect their hearing.
Keep your children away from noisy situations such as big concerts and firework displays.
If it’s unavoidable that they will be in a noisy environment, make sure that they have earplugs or earmuffs that block out loud sounds.
Apply the 60/60 rule with personal listening devices: don’t let your child play their music at more than 60 percent of the device’s volume, and limit exposure to 60 minutes at a time.
Symptoms of hearing loss include difficulty in school, or ongoing buzzing sounds in the ear, also known as tinnitus. They may have trouble hearing soft sounds, or they may struggle to keep up with conversation around them.
Parents should have their children’s hearing tested each year to establish a baseline of their hearing level, and then re-test them each year, so that any hearing loss can be detected and addressed before it impacts them or gets worse. This can be done at an audiologist, or by an on-site service provider that uses KUDUwave, a fully portable lightweight device that combines sound booth, audiometer and headset into one.
The KUDUwave is affordable enough to be used at schools too, and if the appropriately trained school nurse identifies hearing loss, they can refer the child to audiology professionals for further diagnostic tests and treatment.
Annual testing gives parents and teachers the information they need to monitor potential hearing loss over time and take appropriate preventive or remedial measures if a loss is noticed.