Headphone Safety for Kids: What Every Parent Should Know
Are Headphones Safe For Your Children?
When thinking about volume levels, most people would assume that large concert speakers are more dangerous to hearing than headphones or earbuds. In actual fact, it isn’t the size of the speakers that is an issue; it is the strength of the sound they produce and how much it can cause the eardrums to vibrate.
Despite this fact, most people still claim otherwise. Why else would earphones seem less noisy than large loudspeakers? The reason behind this is found in the way the brain interprets the sound’s proximity and compensates accordingly. When wearing earphones, the brain knows that the device is embedded in or on your ears, and that the resulting sound will logically be quite loud. To adjust for this, the brain makes you perceive that it is less loud than it really is. In comparison, the sounds from a loudspeaker are perceived to be as loud as they are, because the speaker physically sits some distance away from your ears.
Another worrying fact is that when children listen to music with headphones on, they often aren’t aware of how loud the volume really is because other people don’t complain about it. If they had music blasted through a music system, neighbors might ask them to turn it down. In this way, parents would also be able to advise the children that the volume is much too loud and that it could cause hearing problems. Earphones, on the other hand, cannot be heard in other rooms, even though they produce sounds that are extremely loud.
A sound pressure level (SPL) meter is a scale that measures different sound levels in decibels. A contextual version uses modern day examples of sounds to help understand how loud a sound is. At one end of the scale is zero to ten decibels, which signifies the low end of your hearing range. A whisper can be measured at around 20 to 30dB. A normal indoor conversation is charted at approximately 60dB. In comparison, a vacuum cleaner can average around 70dB, while a busy street can have sound levels of around 80dB. Moving into the louder range of the SPL scale, at 90dB the sound levels produced are akin to a large, noisy diesel truck which might be about ten meters away. At a disco or concert, large speaker stacks can produce sounds of around 100dB.
Can volumes get higher than that? Certainly! A chainsaw clocks in at 110dB, while a jet aircraft at 50 meters creates noise of 140dB. At around 120dB, the noise levels represent the threshold of discomfort for most people. Just another ten decibels higher, at 130dB, we experience the threshold of noise-related pain in our ears. Where do headphones fit in on this scale? Headphones create volumes of up to 96dB, which is alarmingly close to the discomfort threshold, considering that the sound is delivered directly to your eardrums.
There are two main ways in which hearing loss can occur due to external noises. One is through a sudden, very loud noise, like fireworks. The other is through constant and regular loud noise exposure. Especially in children, whose ears are still delicate, this can be incredibly damaging. Most young people who use mp3 players tend to boost the volume, especially when they use the device in noisy outdoor areas. Parents can limit mp3 player usage to help minimize the damage. Another alternative is to learn how to use the noise limiter feature and teach children why it is important to enable it.
At the Children’s Hospital in Boston, a group of researchers found that it is reasonably safe to listen to music through headphones at around sixty percent of the device’s maximum volume for a period of one hour per day. When it comes to using headphones, the main factors that influence hearing safety are the noise level and period of exposure. Hearing problems may not occur overnight; instead, they can gradually develop over a time.
The type of music player used is only one half of the story. Choosing reliable, good quality headphones is another factor entirely. Good headphones with a high electrical resistance can lower the mp3 player’s volume power. By purchasing a reputable brand of headphones, parents can help to eliminate the risk of hearing damage in their children.
In a study that compared five mainstream commercial mp3 players, researchers discovered that across the board, all of the devices produced similar maximum sound levels. The highest level of sound was so loud that it was considered unsafe to stay exposed to it for even more than a few minutes.
How Does Noise Exposure Cause Hearing Loss?
According to the American National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, an estimated 28 million people in the United States suffer from hearing impairment. Out of this figure, approximately seventeen out of every thousand children have hearing impairments.
Inside the ear, key hair cells that exist in the cochlea are damaged by loud sounds. During a short period of time, exposure to loud noise can cause temporary deafness or hearing loss. This is why after a concert, people often have trouble hearing properly during the next several hours. Another side effect is tinnitus, or a ringing sound in the ears. Temporary hearing loss fades away within a few hours to a day. However, hearing loss caused by prolonged regular exposure to loud noise can be permanent.
Effects on Preschool Children and Schoolchildren
For a long time, researchers have been studying and investigating a number of hearing conditions related to children and toddlers. This includes hearing impairment in general, and its effects on sleep, stress, cognition, and vocal abilities. Some examples of stress-related effects include changes to blood pressure as well as hormone levels. Loud noises can also be frightening for young children, causing bad dreams and negative emotions.
It is highly likely that hearing impairment caused by loud noise can affect young children more than adults. In one study, researchers measured the amount of loss and damage inflicted on ear hair cells in recently dead mice that were previously exposed to loud noise. In addition to this, they also measured the hearing ability of mice that were still alive. When the development stage of the mice was converted to corresponding stages of human life, the researchers formed a theory suggesting that children tend to be more susceptible to hearing loss or impairment due to noise exposure.
Acoustic Shock – Could Children be Safer Wearing Headphones?
Acoustic shock is a hearing condition that can either be temporary or permanent, depending on its severity. It affects the main functions of the ears, as well as the nervous system. Acoustic shock is typically caused by an extremely loud and unexpected sound that is usually delivered over a telephone or a similar device.
There are a few devices that help to protect users from acoustic shock. Some technologies make use of signal processing to moderate the listening levels. They are designed to act quickly in the event of an unusually loud noise. Newer models do not rely on batteries, so they are more dependable. It is certainly a good idea to install such devices on telephone headsets or earphones in order to protect children.
How To Protect Children from Excessive Noise in Headphones?
Perhaps the best way to protect children from prolonged loud levels in their headphones is to use a system that does not require a parent to constantly monitor the child. One option is to use a powered adapter to enhance the listening experience at safe volumes. An alternative technology is known as passive acoustic limiting technology. It exists in some forms of headphones for children so that the volume is automatically reduced when the sound levels become too high. It does not use batteries, so there is no danger of it suddenly failing. Furthermore, it is built to be sturdy and robust so that children cannot easily damage or break it. Of course, education is always worth the effort too. Teach children about the consequences of constant exposure to loud noise. Make them imagine what it might be like to have no hearing ability at all some day, so that they may learn to value and protect their ears.
By Robert Murdock