In the article we’ll discuss why children are more sensitive to loud sounds than we are, what sound levels are safe, common culprits risking hearing damage, how to protect your baby’s hearing …PLUS the importance of newborn hearing screening and not creating anxiety around sounds.
Loud sounds are even louder for babies and kids.
Infants and young children are more sensitive to loud noises than adults are because the ear canal is smaller in children, and the sound pressure that is generated in the ears is greater compared to adults. In other words, loud sounds are even louder for kids.
What decibel level is safe for my baby/child?
Most audiologists will recommend hearing protection for noise exposure or sounds louder than 85 decibels, and government guidelines mandate that employees not be exposed to noise of 85 decibels or louder for longer than eight hours.
But it’s not a hard line.
Consistent sounds over, say, 80 decibels could also be damaging.
It is important to limit both the intensity and duration of noise.
My newborn seems to be completely undisturbed by loud sounds
One thing that surprises most new parents is that babies can be incredibly oblivious to loud noises when they first arrive home.
You can take a newborn to a loud restaurant or rock concert, and they’ll probably sleep soundly, despite the noise. They’ll also sleep in a central living area with full light and the bustle of a busy home.
This is because babies are born relatively insensitive initially. This helps to numb the discomfort of the birthing process for babies, and allows them to concentrate on establishing feeds and gaining weight.
By 3–4 weeks, this insensitivity begins to wane and babies ‘wake up’, becoming more alert and unsettled by external stimuli.
It’s really important in the first few weeks even if your baby is completely insensitive to sound you still protect their little ears.
How do I know how loud something is?
There are apps on your phone that can measure the decibel level, but as a general guide:
- Comfortable noise levels are: 0–60 dB, which would be things like conversational speech, nature sounds, or noise in your bedroom or living room.
- Loud noise levels are: 60–90 dB, which are things like street traffic, heavy trucks or a live concert.
- Painful noise levels are: anything above 90 dB and would include things like alarms, jackhammers or a jet engine.
Possible hearing hazards for babies & children
Noise induced hearing loss can more often than not be avoided – some common culprits to look out for are:
- Events such as festivals, sports events or a loud concert
- These you have no control over the sound so I highly recommend hearing protection if you take your babies or kids
- Loud toys:
- This advice will benefit you and you kids….
- Some noise making toys are INSANELY loud (and annoying)
- Because children play with toys close to their face 80-90 dB noises can be damaging
- Test toys that make noise before you buy them, if any you’re given a toy that makes excessively loud sounds simply take the batteries out 😜
- Television/radio/music volume
- Our sounds systems have incredible capacity in both cars and homes now, be conscious of what volume you set yours at
- Firework displays
- The closer you are the louder they’ll be – there are regulations on how close crowds can be
- If you’re in the thick of things always take hearing protection for kids
- White noise sleep machine
- I’m a HUGE fan of white noise so this isn’t meant to be alarmist
- BUT you’ll probably find the loudest setting on the machine isn’t a safe level to leave on for continuous play for all sleeps.
- Simply work out what the safe volume is and don’t put it right next to your baby’s head.
- I’m a HUGE fan of white noise so this isn’t meant to be alarmist
- Household appliances (vacuum, hair dryer, blender, coffee grinders)
- You may find your kids are far more sensitive to these than you are (remember loud noises are louder for kids) so be conscious when you use them and when avoidable not right next to them.
What ear protection should I use to protect my child’s hearing?
Earplugs are not recommended for infants, toddlers or very young children, as they are small enough to present a choking hazard.
For baby’s I recommend ear muffs – there are lots of cute options available with softer adjustable (wahable) bands for babies and more robust headbands for older kids.
Noise cancelling headphones for babies and children will be measured with a NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) each jurisdiction will have safety standards these products need to adhere to – whatever brand you pick make sure they are compliant with these standards.
To protect hearing older children can use ear putty or appropriate–sized ear plugs as hearing protectors.
Avoid creating anxiety over sound(s):
We want to ensure that as our babies grow, we don’t make our children anxious about noise.
Be conscious of loud sounds and always endeavor to protect your child’s ears in noisy environments but don’t create unnecessary panic or anxiety around them – always create an environment of calm (even when it’s loud).
Healthy hearing habits is what we want to instill in families to protect our kids and our own hearing.
Newborn hearing screening in Australia
All states and territories across Australia offer newborn hearing screening programs in your baby’s first weeks of life, while sometimes daunting for parents these are really important as we know early detection hearing loss detection improves outcomes.
Significant hearing loss, if undetected early, can lead to speech and language delay.
Early detection of hearing loss and appropriate management allows families to make decisions about the intervention services that are best for their baby’s needs and leads to better speech and language and educational outcomes for the child.
Depending on where you live, the newborn hearing screen will usually involve a non-invasive test performed by a specialised trained nurse with a parent’s consent.
The screen will most likely be completed at the mothers bedside while the baby is asleep (in hospital) or at a follow up outpatient appointment
- The screen uses standard technology (Automated Auditory Brainstem Response AABR)
- Several small pads are placed gently on your baby’s head and a soft earphone is lightly placed over each ear.
- Soft clicking sounds will then play into your baby’s ears and their responses to these sounds are recorded.
- The result is known immediately and will be either a ‘pass’ or a ’refer’
- A Pass result: indicates that your baby hears at levels required for normal speech and language development at the time of the screen,
- A Refer result: means your baby will need to have a second screening test
A ‘refer’ result can be caused by a number of things:
- your baby was unsettled during the screen
- there may have been background noise during the screen
- your baby may have fluid or a temporary blockage in the ear after birth
- a small number of babies may have a temporary or permanent hearing loss.
- The degree of loss can vary from mild through to profound.
If the second test also returns a refer result, they will be referred to an audiologist for further tests. If your baby is identified as requiring audiology follow up you will be fully supported through the process of diagnosis and intervention by the relevant support services in your state.
Note: A small number of babies may pass the screen, but have known risk factors for types of hearing loss which take longer to appear. If this is the case, your baby will be offered a hearing test with an audiologist sometime before their first birthday.
Monitoring our children’s hearing goes beyond the newborn screening:
Even if your baby passes the newborn hearing screen, our hearing can change over time. It is important to continue to protect your child’s hearing and to monitor your child’s hearing and speech as they grow and discuss any concerns with your GP or Paediatrician.
Beyond exposure to loud sounds causes of hearing problems in children include otitis media (infection of the middle ear), genetic disorders, and certain diseases (such as meningitis).
You can get your child’s hearing checked at any time if you are concerned with a referral to an audiologist.