Can Headphones Cause Hearing Loss In Your Child?

Do you or your child listen to music with headphones often? Worried that this source of entertainment can affect your hearing? Well, then here is some valuable information you should know.

By Sarika Chuni

Can Headphones Cause Hearing Loss In Your Child?
A child suffering from ear pain

From the 5kg earpieces that rested on the shoulders of the telephone operators in the 1880s, to the super-light wireless earpods of today, headphones have sure come a long way.

As the world around us gets increasingly noisy with its never-ending traffic, construction sites, crowded public spaces and the general chaos of a bustling city, headphones keep evolving to help us drown out those unpleasant noises. We can listen to our favourite songs instead, that transport us to another world!

Further, kids and teenagers use headphones and earphones excessively nowadays, to listen to their trendy music or movies and TV shows, and even play loud video games. But, is this safe and can too much of loudness result in hearing damage?

Well, in 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press statement warning that 1.1 billion young adults are at risk of permanent hearing loss due to unsafe levels of sound from their personal devices. And hearing loss can have devastating consequences on your child’s health, mental wellness, education, work and overall quality of life.

So, how loud is too loud?

Exposure to noise levels that are over 85 decibels, for eight hours continuously is highly unsafe for your ears and hearing. And noise levels of 100 decibels shouldn’t be endured for more than 15 minutes. What’s alarming is that an MP3 player belting out a tune at maximum volume through the earbuds can touch 105 decibels. This is potentially harmful to you and your child.

Here are some common signs that indicate the sound levels are high on your earphone:

  • You must raise your voice to be heard by another person
  • You can’t hear someone who is standing three feet away from you
  • When you remove your headphones, the sounds around seem muffled
  • You experience a ringing sound or pain in your ears

What happens inside your ear?

The cochlea is a part of the inner ear that looks like a snail shell. It contains fragile hair cells that turn sound vibrations into sound messages and send them to the brain. Loud sounds, over a prolonged period, damage these hair cells and consequently the cochlea is unable to relay the sound messages to the brain. Unlike other parts of the body, damage to the cochlea never heals.

Types of hearing loss

Hearing loss can be short term(transient) or long term(permanent).

In short term, a person loses the ability to hear for some time but recovers automatically after a few hours with or without medication; and in long term, a person permanently loses his hearing ability.

What are the signs of hearing loss?

  • Difficulty in understanding speech; for example, you need to turn the volume on the TV louder, to hear it properly while everyone around you can hear it even at a lower volume.
  • Buzzing or ringing sounds in the ears called ‘tinnitus’
  • Hearing muffled sounds and feeling that your ear is blocked

The following signs are more severe and require you to consult an ENT specialist:

  • Pain or discomfort in the ears
  • Severe hearing loss in one or both ears
  • Acute or chronic dizziness
  • Discharge from the ears

How to prevent hearing loss?

Here are a few tips for you and your family to help prevent hearing loss from headphones usage:

  1. Follow the 60/60 rule: Doctors recommend listening at 60 per cent of the maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
  2. Take breaks: When listening to music or your favourite show via your headphones, take breaks in between rather than listening to it continuously.
  3. Follow a noise diet: Give your ears the required rest if they have been exposed to loud sounds during events such as music shows, discotheques and movie theatres.
  4. Keep the volume in check: Check the volume by holding your headphones out in front of you. Can you hear the music? If yes, is it too loud!
  5. Set a maximum volume limit: Severalsmartphones and music devices these days come with a maximum volume warning limit. You can adjust the sound settings to ensure that the volume doesn’t exceed the safe limit.
  6. Avoid wearing headphones in noisy areas: It is common to crank up the volume to an unsafe level to block out the surrounding noise, so avoid wearing headphones in loud noisy areas.

How can you prevent hearing loss in your child?

As a parent, you may not always be around to make sure your child follows the above-mentioned rules. But here are a few steps you must take:

  1. Set volume restrictions: Modern devices allow parents to secure volume restrictions on their child’s phone or MP3 player with a special password.
  2. Use Chrome to watch videos: The web browser Chrome volume controller is a feature available for all. Parents can restrict the volume settings on videos watched by children on the computer.
  3. Use over-ear noise-cancelling headphones: Give your child over-ear headphones, also known as ‘full-size’ or ‘around-ear’ headphones. These come with cushions that encase the ear and help block out the background noise.
  4. Avoid in-ear headphones or ‘earbuds’: These types of earphones are a strict no-no for children.

What to do when your child’s hearing is affected?

Hearing loss can cause significant issues with your child’s cognitive development. If you suspect that your child has hearing loss, it is important to seek the advice of a qualified otologist/hearing healthcare professional immediately. Hearing tests are simple, painless and available widely.

The treatment for hearing loss in children varies according to the severity of the symptoms. As with any other illness, the earlier one identifies it, the better.

Following are some lines of treatment recommended by doctors for hearing loss:

  1. Medicine: If the hearing loss is due to an infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics along with decongestants to cure it. If it is due to a non-infective (vascular) cause, then an appropriate course of treatment may restore the hearing to normal or near normal.
  2. Hearing aids: If the hearing loss has happened because of damage to the inner ear, the doctor may have to prescribe a hearing aid.
  3. Cochlear implants: If the child is experiencing deafness or extreme hearing loss, the doctor may recommend cochlear implants, which are surgically implanted into the child’s ear.
  4. Speech therapy: If the hearing loss has affected the child’s speech, the doctor may advise speech therapy after implanting the hearing aids or cochlear implants.

So, at the end of the day, you should approach noise in the same manner as you might approach junk food, alcohol or sun exposure. Set some ground rules for yourself and your child and follow them judiciously. Be an example for your child to follow. Also, should you suspect a hearing problem in your child, get it checked up by an ENT specialist immediately.

With inputs from Dr Khaja Naseeruddin, Professor & HOD of ENT, Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences & Research

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