My teen has earbuds in all day, will this damage her hearing?

Most parents and caregivers know that headphone or earbud volume over 85 decibels damages hearing. But volume is only part of the equation, so don’t be fooled into thinking that headphones made for children are safe.

Posted Monday September 14, 2020

They may be capped at 85 decibels — but what most people don’t realise is that listening duration also damages ears, and listening at ‘safe’ volumes for several hours causes just as much damage.

Damage from constant low-level noise builds up with little warning. Without safe practices, children could end up with hearing loss, communication difficulties and tinnitus, aural fullness, sensitivity and pain. The process is so gradual that it’s often hard to tell if we’ve damaged our ears until it’s too late.

This is not to say that children shouldn’t be allowed to turn up “a favourite song” — there is no need to put them off an important hearing health message with severe restrictions — but a handy formula to apply is duration x volume: as one increases, the other should decrease.

What can parents do to make listening safer?

Things a parent can do include:

  • check your child can hear when spoken to
  • check that you can’t hear sound “leaking” from the headphones
  • periodically check the volume, or use locking controls
  • make sure your child takes breaks from listening
  • have your child’s hearing tested at least every three years; an audiogram and speech-in-noise test can catch future problems

Any ear symptom is serious — ringing, muffling, fullness, fluttering, thumping, sensitivity, distortion, pain — even if temporary, and take note if your child asks ‘what?’ too often.

Noise-cancelling headphones help your child listen in background noise without having to turn the volume up, but don’t confuse them with volume-limiting headphones or noise-blocking earmuffs, which are different technologies used for different purposes.

US reporter Joyce Cohen recently covered this topic for the New York Times. We provide a link to the full article here.

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