By: Karina Chaloux, audiologist, Hamilton Health Sciences
In my role as an audiologist, I’m often asked whether babies and children should wear hearing protection. The answer is: absolutely! Noise that’s potentially damaging to an adult’s ears is even more dangerous to a child’s. And, since hearing loss from exposure to loud noises is permanent, it’s important for parents to start the habit of protecting kids’ ears while they’re young.
When should my child wear hearing protection?
Everyone, especially children and babies, should wear hearing protection when the potential for loud noises is high. We measure sound in “decibels”. Any noise below 75 decibels (about the level of a vacuum cleaner) is considered safe. Noise above 85 decibels (about the level of a lawn mower) is dangerous and can cause hearing damage and loss.
Activities that may lead to hearing loss include:
- Attending loud events in stadiums, gymnasiums, amusement parks, theaters, auditoriums, and other entertainment facilities.
- Attending auto races, air shows, demolition derbies, sporting events, music concerts (music lessons, rehearsals), fireworks.
- Riding a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, motorcycles or farm tractor/equipment.
- Using or in the presence of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers, chain saws or any other loud power tools.
- Participating in or observing shooting sports. The sound of a gunshot can reach the same level as a jet engine at takeoff. At this decibel level, noise can damage hearing immediately and permanently. Hearing protectors should be a standard part of shooting-safety gear.
If you’re unsure about whether hearing protection is necessary in a particular situation, there are mobile apps available for download which measure decibel levels to help you identify a potential risk for hearing damage.
What kind of hearing protection should children wear?
There are three common types of hearing protection products, some of which are better for babies and children.
(Just say no to) Earplugs: Earplugs are either soft foam or hard plastic inserts that fit directly into the ear canal. They come in both disposable and reusable options. Because earplugs are usually adult sizes, they may not fit into small ears, while also posing a choking hazard for young kids.
Ear muffs: Ear muffs designed specifically for hearing protection are a good option for kids, since they fit over and form a seal around the entire ear. The ear muffs are held in place by an adjustable band and they come in kids’ sizes, making it easy to find a proper fit. Remember: try to keep hair and glasses out of the way to ensure a proper seal.