The University of Kentucky Public Relations & Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Anne Olson, Ph.D, audiologist and chair of the UK Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 17, 2021) – May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, and as we head into the summer season, it’s important for parents to pay attention to how their children use earbuds and headphones in their leisure time. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), approximately 1.1 billion young people worldwide are at risk of hearing loss from the unsafe use of personal audio devices (like smartphones) and exposure to noisy activities.
Summer is a time of heightened risk for kids because they have more free time on their hands – time used for gaming, scrolling TikTok, or streaming music on their devices, often with earbuds or headphones. This year, hearing experts are especially concerned, as many kids have already spent a full year online for school, using devices for six or more hours per day for educational purposes alone. The two factors that can affect a person’s hearing are the amount of time spent listening and volume setting of the device.
Exposure to excessive noise levels over time can result in Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) because of damage to the hair cells of the inner ear. NIHL is completely preventable, but is typically irreversible once it occurs. Although it can develop from one excessively loud noise event (such as a firecracker), it more frequently occurs due to the cumulative effect of noise exposure over time. The World Health Organization recommends that children spend no more than 40 hours listening to a personal audio device each week, at levels no higher than 75 decibels. Many technology devices and accessories reach volumes above 100 decibels, and even headphones marketed as “kid safe” routinely exceed 85 or even 90 decibels.
Here are some tips from ASHA to help parents protect their kids’ hearing.
- Turn the volume down (even on “volume-limiting” products). Some headphones claim to have maximum noise output levels that won’t damage hearing. But studies have shown that these claims aren’t always reliable and offer a false sense of security. The best bet is for kids to keep the volume at half level.
- Use noise-canceling earbuds/headphones. Noise-canceling earbuds or headphones can reduce the need to crank up the volume
- Take regular listening breaks. Encourage kids to give their ears a rest and take hourly breaks, even if just for a few minutes. The potential for hearing damage hinges on how long a person listens as much as how loud they listen.
- Model safe use. Practice what you preach by watching the volume levels on your own devices. Take other prevention steps such as using ear protection when mowing the lawn. You’ll be a great example — and you’ll protect your own hearing, too.
- Help children appreciate their hearing. Talk to kids about why safe listening is important, so they understand that you aren’t just nagging. Let them know that hearing is something to value now and for years to come.
If your child seems to have trouble hearing or constantly turns up the volume on their devices or television, contact a certified audiologist for a hearing evaluation.