Your Baby & Toddler - - BABY FILES: TODDLER - Dr Dirk Koeke­moer

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.


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