Millions across the globe have seen the pictures of Michael Phelphs’ son, Boomer, at the Olympic Games in Rio sporting infant earmuffs. Why is Boomer wearing these headphones? Ridge Zeller Therapy’s guest blogger, Ashley Pederson, AuD., CCC-A, explains.
The Importance of Infant Hearing Protection
Approximately 2 to 3 out of 1,000 children in the United States are born with a permanent congenital hearing loss.
However, for children that are born with normal hearing, it is imperative that parents and guardians understand the importance of infant hearing protection in order to protect their child’s hearing from permanent damage.
No child is too young to be at risk for noise-induced sensorineural hearing loss, and noise exposure can cause permanent and irreversible damage to the inner ear.
Infants and children with permanent sensorineural hearing loss, regardless of severity, are at risk for many developmental hurdles if the hearing loss goes undiagnosed and untreated. These risks include delays in speech and language, as well as delays in emotional, academic and psychosocial development.
Often times parents of children with hearing loss initiate hearing healthcare as soon as the hearing loss is identified, including the use of hearing aids and early intervention programs, to help their child succeed.
However, the use of hearing protection for children with normal hearing is often overlooked, and many do not realize that young children are at more risk for permanent noise-induced hearing loss than others.
The anatomy of an infant’s ear canal is one explanation of how young children are more at risk for noise-induced hearing loss than adults. According to Levi A. Reiter, Ph.D., CCC-A, the head of audiology at Hofstra University, “a young child’s ear canal is much smaller than an older child’s or adult’s, [so] the sound pressure entering the ear is greater” … “the shorter length of the ear canal increases dangerous noise levels in the higher frequencies, which are crucial to language development.” (Cohen, 2010). The use of infant hearing protection, including earmuffs and ear plugs, can reduce the overall loudness level and protect the child’s hearing from any damage.
Further, hearing loss from noise exposure is often a snowball effect, worsening to a greater degree of hearing loss the longer an individual is exposed to unsafe listening levels. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has documented the maximum amount of time that is safe to be exposed to various levels of noise.
For example, an individual should be exposed to noise at a level of 100 dB no longer than 2 hours. Unfortunately, many concerts and sporting events reach noise levels of 120 dB and upward, often lasting much longer than 2 hours.
As stated by Brian Fligor, Au.D., Sc.D., director of audiology at the Children’s Hospital Boston, “hearing loss from exposure to loud noises is cumulative and irreversible; if such exposure starts in infancy, children can live half their lives with hearing loss.” (Cohen, 2010). Therefore, the use of earmuffs or other hearing protection devices on children can significantly reduce their risk and avoid this very preventable hearing loss.
The hopes in sharing this information is that the reader, including adults such as parents and guardians, will take away the importance of hearing protection in people of all ages, but with special emphasis on infants, toddlers and children too young to be able to protect themselves.
Please help to shed light on this very invisible, and often ignored, threat to hearing by spreading the word on the many reasons to use hearing protection, especially for infants and young children.
Cohen, J. “Want A Better Listener? Protect Those Ears.” New York Times. March 1, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/02/health/02baby.html
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) Quick Statistics About Hearing. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing, updated June 17, 2016.
United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards (OSHA). Table G-16, Permissible Noise Exposures. https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9735