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Pediatric Health

Now Hear This

You Can Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

September 01, 2010
Music. Video games. TV. Traffic.

Every day, children are bombarded by sound. And as technology consumes more and more of their lives, hearing loss is on the rise.

Noise-induced hearing loss can result from a one-time exposure to a very loud sound like an explosion or by listening to loud noises over an extended period. Damage can start in childhood and ultimately affect everything from school performance to relationships with friends and family.

The human ear is made up of three components: the external ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Sensitive hair cells are located in the inner ear and convert sounds into electrical signals that travel to the brain and allow us to hear. Once these cells are damaged by noise, they cannot be fixed.

Noise-induced hearing loss is related to both the amount of sound and the amount of time exposed to it. Sound is measured in decibels (dB). Anyone who is exposed to noise levels at 85 decibels or higher for a long time is at risk.

Here are some examples of activities and their noise levels:

Whispering: 30dB

Normal conversation: 60dB

Power saws, concerts and racing cars: 110dB

Gunshots, fireworks: 140dB

Many devices that children use today carry noise levels much higher than 85 decibels. For example, an MP3 player at maximum level is roughly 115 decibels. Other significant sources are loud toys, band instruments, video games/arcades, snowmobiles, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and power tools.

You may or may not notice signs because symptoms are usually gradual and rarely painful. Your child or teen may first have trouble hearing high-pitched sounds or conversations in crowded places. The most common symptoms are vague feelings of pressure or fullness in the ears, close-up conversation that seems to be muffled or far away, as well as a ringing sound in the ears.

Even though symptoms may go away, there is at least some permanent damage. If you suspect hearing loss, talk to your child's doctor about a hearing test and possibly an examination by a specialist.

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss:

• Avoid prolonged exposure to loud noises (lawn mowers, power tools, racing cars, etc.) whenever possible.

• In loud situations, move far away from the source of the noise or use foam ear plugs or earmuff protectors when possible.

• Turn down the volume and/or reduce the duration of use for TVs, radios and stereos.

• Children who listen to music or play video games with earphones should take periodic breaks to allow the inner ear to rest or recover to avoid permanent injury.

• Loose-fitting ear buds maintain the volume level below 80dB, and newer volume-limiting earphones are also available. Some MP3 players also include parental controls to limit maximum volume levels.

For more information, visit www.RileyHospital.org.

Dr. Stuart Morgenstein is a Pediatric Otolaryngologist with Riley Hospital for Children.

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Tags: Health, Kids, Parenting, Tweens & Teens

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