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The Children’s Hearing Institute reports that hearing loss among children and young adults is rising in the US, and that one-third of the damage is caused by noise.
According to the American Academy of Audiology, about one child in eight has noise-induced hearing loss. That means: around five million kids have an entirely preventable disability that will stay with them for life.
“Turn It To The Left”
So the Academy has begun a “turn it to the left” (the volume dial, that is) awareness campaign, according to an article in the NY Times.
The hope is that current and future generations of youngsters will be protected from unwittingly damaging their hearing.
Often the problem is not detected until children develop persistent ringing in the ears or begin to have learning or behavior problems in school because of trouble understanding speech.
Newborns are routinely screened for hearing loss, but there is no federal mandate for screening the hearing of school-age children. What testing is done often fails to check hearing at high enough pitches, a fact pointed out by a research team in the journal Pediatrics.
Noise Surrounds Us
Power mowers. Leaf blowers. Snow blowers. Car and house alarms. Sirens. Motorcycles. Jet skis. Loudspeakers — even movie soundtracks. Not to mention sports events.
Rock concerts, weddings, parties where the music is so loud you can’t talk with the person next to you.
Modern restaurants foster noise enhancement these days, not noise abatement. And school cafeterias are no place to have a conversation.
In addition, we now besiege kids with noisy toys and personal listening devices.
At home, televisions, games, sound systems, and computer games are often turned up so loud that listeners cannot hear a doorbell or telephone.
According to Jane Brody’s Science Times article,
toys that meet the safety standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials can produce up to 138 decibels.
A series of studies conducted in 2002 among 116 infants by researchers at Johns Hopkins indicated that even moderate background noise can interfere with how they learn language. The effect on babies’ hearing in a noisy house is similar to what an older person with age-related hearing loss may encounter at a crowded cocktail party.
A landmark study in 1975 found that children in classrooms on the noisy side of a school had lower reading scores than those whose classes were on the quiet side.
Noise-induced hearing loss can come about in two ways: a brief exposure to a very loud noise, or consistent exposure to moderate-level noise.
So it is reasonable to feel concern about the effects of MP3 players that are turned up loud enough to block out surrounding sound, like street noise.
An MP3 player at maximum volume produces about 105 decibels — 100 times as intense as 85 decibels, where hearing damage begins. (For every 10 decibels, sound intensity increases tenfold.)
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 110 decibels can produce hearing damage after just 1 minute, 29 seconds of exposure.
The League for the Hard of Hearing cautions that “noise levels above 85 decibels will harm hearing over time.” They also warn that levels above 140 decibels — the pain threshold — can damage hearing after just one exposure.
New bone-conduction headphones that hook over the ears and pass sound through the skull to the inner ear may not solve the problem. While they allow listeners to hear an oncoming car or a person speaking, users may turn up the volume to overcome ambient noise, damaging the 15,000 tiny hair cells in the inner ear that transfer sound energy to the brain.
And once damaged, hair cells can neither be repaired nor replaced. Such damage makes it difficult to hear high-pitched sounds, including certain speech sounds and the voices of women and children. Tinnitus, a continuous ringing, roaring or clicking in the ears, is also a result.
Protect Young Ears
- Parents should listen to how loud a toy is before purchasing it.
- If a toy comes with a volume control, monitor its use: make sure it’s kept near the lowest level.
- Consider returning gifts that make loud noises.
- Or take steps to disable the noise-making function.
- You can also restrict the use of noisy toys to outside areas.
- If children play computer games or use stereo equipment, warn them to keep the volume down.
- Video arcades’ noise levels can exceed 110 decibels: strictly limit time spent there.
- Avoid taking kids to loud action movies: if the manager won’t turn sound down, demand your money back.
- Make sure kids who play in bands or use power tools (or guns) wear hearing protection, availabe at pharmacies and hardware stores.
- Do encourage participation in quiet activities — reading, watching sound-regulated films, doing puzzles, making things, playing educational computer games, drawing and painting, or visiting libraries and museums.
After a Diagnosis
What happens if a newborn fails the hearing test? In about half of all cases, there is no timely follow-up. Parents often say they were not told about the test or given a result.
Parents who do pursure the matter often consult only their pediatricians — who may have neither the training nor the equipment to do a proper hearing test.
When hearing loss is suspected, a child should be referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor, and to an audiologist, for a definitive testing.
If a significant problem is diagnosed, even if just in one ear, a hearing aid can be a great help. Currently, only 12 percent of American children with significant hearing loss use an aid that can help them hear properly.
The high cost or lack of insurance are only part of the problem: some parents are concerned about a “stigma,” and some children simply refuse to wear an aid.
The most common deterrent to getting help is a failure to recognize a hearing problem in young children. A delay in acquiring language, poor enunciation, failure to follow instructions or a tendency to turn up the volume on the TV — these are all indicators of a problem.
sole source: Jane Brody’s NY Times article in Science Times on 12/9/08. www.nytimes.com
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Most iPods have a control that allows parents to set a maximum volume.