Kids and Noise

Federal guidelines regulate the amount of allowable noise in the workplace, but did you know there are no similar regulations for allowable noise in daily recreational activities?  The world has become a noisier place, and this noise poses a threat to everyone, including children.

Remember, we use the word noise to refer to any potentially hazardous sound!

Noise Affects Children’s Hearing

Many people are aware that exposure to loud noise can result in hearing loss.  In fact, noise exposure is one of the most common causes of hearing loss in adults.  Such noise includes occupational noise in the work place, firearms use and noise in other recreational activities.  These same people might be surprised to learn that children are equally at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, especially in today’s noisy world!

Studies have indicated that more and more children are experiencing hearing loss at all ages:

  • A study in 1990 found that 7% of second graders, 15% of eighth graders and 13% of twelfth graders failed a hearing screening.  The same study found that 26% of seniors who played in the school band had hearing loss!

ACA promotes awareness of musicians, educators and parents regarding the importance of protecting hearing via Etymotic’s Adopt-A- Band program.  If you are interested in this program, please contact ACA!  Check out this Adopt a Band link.

  • A 1996 study revealed that 10% of ninth graders failed a hearing screening, and that none of these had ever been identified previously with a hearing loss.  Importantly, these students were also identified by their teachers as exhibiting learning and behavior problems in class.
  • The American Medical Association has reported that 15% of children between the ages of 6 and 19 years in the United States have measurable hearing loss!

Where does this noise come from?

Depending on the child’s age, there are many sources for hazardous noise.

  • Toys that conform to the Safety Requirements of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM F963) are allowed to produce impulsive noises up to 138 dB– the same level as a jet taking off!
  • A very important consideration is that most adults think of noises as being at a distance, whereas a child will often hold a toy very close to the ear.  The closer the ear is to the sound source, the more hazardous it can be!
  • For comparison to the following, please remember that federal guidelines require that hearing protection be worn in the workplace if noise levels are above 85 dBA!
    • Rattles and squeak toys can create noises as high as 110 dBA.
    • Musical toys like guitars, drums and horns can emit even louder sounds, up to 120 dBA.
    • Toy phones can ring at levels as high as 129 dBA.
    • Toys that amplify the voice can produce sounds up to 135 dB.
    • Firearms can create explosive sounds as loud as 150 dBA.
  • Older children and teens have even more opportunities for exposure to hazardous noise levels.
    • Various activities that older children and teens enjoy have been shown to be potentially hazardous to hearing.
      • Motorcycles
      • Jet skis
      • Personal stereos (average is 105-110 dBA with full volume going up to 137 dBA)
      • Video arcades (up to 110 dBA)
      • Fireworks (often above 130 dBA)
      • Computer games (up to 135 dBA)
      • Loud action movies (usually above 90 dBA).
    • Just one hour per day of loud music from a personal stereo (100-110 dBA) can cause permanent hearing loss!
    • Teenagers who do yardwork for extra spending money– or who do yardwork as part of their regular chores– may also be exposed to hazardous noise levels.
    • Participation in musical activities– the school band or a garage rock band– can also provide opportunities for excessive noise levels to damage hearing.  Remember, one study showed that 26% of high-school seniors who played in the school band had measurable hearing loss!

Why are children so resistant to hearing protection?

As in so many areas of safety, children often think they are invincible.  Add to this the mistaken perception that hearing loss is a problem only of the elderly, and it’s easy to understand why children are resistant to hearing protection.  Finally, hearing loss due to noise typically is painless, so a child won’t feel any pain as the loss occurs.

What can parents do?

Parents can set a good example!  You are your child’s role model for attitudes on hearing loss and hearing protection.  If good hearing and the use of hearing protection are important to you, it will be important to your child as well.  By wearing hearing protection when exposed to hazardous noise, parents send a clear message to their children:  hearing is a valuable gift that deserves protection!

Parents can pay attention to their children’s activities.  Monitor the sound levels in these activities and, if you think they are too loud, take action!  If you can hear your child’s personal stereo, it is too loud!  Require your children to reduce the loudness of personal stereos, video games, computer games and other noise producers, and set consequences if they fail to do so.  Discuss noise levels with activity directors.  Finally, require your children to use hearing protection.   Check out this link for further information regarding hearing protectors.

Parents can take a pro-active stance.  If your child is involved in musical activities, uses a personal stereo regularly, is a hunter or uses other types of firearms, or is involved in any other noisy activity (such as lawn care), obtain a baseline hearing evaluation and counseling from an audiologist regarding the risk that noise poses to hearing and means of preventing noise-induced hearing loss.

Parents can recognize the warning signs of noise-induced hearing loss.  If your children complain of ringing in the ears, muffled speech or “stuffiness” in their ears after noisy activities, see an audiologist for a baseline hearing evaluation!
Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable.  By combining parents’ pro-active stance with appropriate hearing protection and counseling by an audiologist, there is every reason to believe that today’s children can grow up with and maintain healthy hearing!

Acute Noise vs. Chronic Noise

The noise described above which damages hearing can be called acute noise, because it is typically of relatively short duration. Chronic noise, on the other hand, typically occurs at much lower levels and does not damage hearing.  It can, however, cause significant adverse effects on a child’s learning, behavior and health.

Noise Affects Children’s Learning

Chronic noise reduces reading scores and certain speech reception and recognition skills.  Researchers studied children in schools near an airport and an elevated train track and compared them to similar children in quiet schools.  Other factors were reported as possibly affecting learning in noisy schools, such as teacher irritability.  However, after noise reduction efforts were implemented for the school near the elevated train tracks, the reading scores for that school improved to match those in the quiet school!

Noise Affects Children’s Behavior

Noise is a source of stress, and uncontrollable noise (and uncontrollable stress) can lead to feelings of helplessness.  Children who are exposed to chronic noise often have less tolerance for frustration, reduced ability to attend to tasks at hand, and reduced motivation to help others.

Noise Affects Children’s Health

Studies involving children who lived near airports and were exposed to chronic noise had higher blood pressure than children who lived in quiet neighborhoods.  Additionally, the children who lived around chronic noise reported more sleep difficulties and were more likely to report feeling unwell than children in quiet neighborhoods.

What can parents do?

Parents can offer children opportunities for peace and quiet.  Turn off the TV, run the dishwasher when children are at school and encourage quiet activities.  Read to children and encourage them to read.  Plan quiet outings to places like libraries and museums.  Choose family oriented films that focus on relationships, rather than violent, noisy action films.
Parents can give noise the priority status it deserves.  If your child is in chronic noise environments at school or play, get involved and work for changes!

Check out this article!