Have you ever been to a loud event like a monster truck show and seen children covering their ears?
Loud noises can be painful and damaging to tender young ears. You may be surprised to learn that Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing children need ear protection, too! Even if a person can’t hear, ear protection is still important. In this article, I’ll cover why it’s necessary and how to protect your Deaf child’s ears.
Why Do Deaf Children Need Ear Protection?
According to the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (2022), loud noises can damage the hairs of the inner ear. These hairs send signals to the brain and, if damaged, can contribute to further hearing loss and mixed messages in the brain.
This applies to anyone at any level of hearing, including the Deaf. Damage to the physical ears can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) as well as tinnitus, which can cause distressing buzzing or ringing sounds.
In addition to the physical effects on the ears, Sepand Bafti from BrainFacts.org says that hearing loss also affects the brain in other ways, like accelerating the aging process in otherwise healthy people. This sort of effect may not even be discovered until the damage is long done. As reported by Lifelong Hearing, Dr. Paul Martin Zwittag of the Kepler University Hospital in Linz, Austria states that noise exposure “also has a negative effect on the cardiovascular and vascular systems, hormonal systems, metabolism with the risk of type 2 diabetes, sleep quality, psychological well-being and cognitive performance.” That’s a lot of risks to come from loud sounds!
Imagine your child is at that monster truck show and the loud revving engines damage their ears.
Won’t she recover, since she’s young and healthy? Unfortunately, the experts don’t have good news about this—according to the CDC, “Damaged hair cells [in the ear] do not grow back” (2022). Once the damage is done, there’s no undoing it. Wouldn’t it be better to prevent hearing loss now—before it’s too late?
How loud does it have to be to cause potential hearing loss? Our ears are quite sensitive. The ICPhS states, “if you need to raise your voice in order to be heard, your surroundings are noisy enough to cause hearing loss” (2022). How loud is this, exactly? Experts say any sound above 85 decibels (dB) is loud enough to cause damage.
This helpful list from ExcelENT of Alabama breaks down just how loud certain everyday sounds are. For reference, normal conversation is considered to be around 60 dB. Consider the noise level of the following sounds:
City traffic – 88 dB
Noisy restaurant – 90 dB
Motorcycle – 97 dB
Chain saw – 110 dB
Concert – 120 dB
A jet taking off – 140 dB
Want to see how loud your environment is? Try the NIOSH Sound Level Meter app—a free iOS tool that will give you a live decibel reading!
How To Protect Your Deaf Child’s Ears
As a parent, it is your duty to protect your child, which includes protecting their ears. But how? Here are a few options to consider:
Move away from the noise if possible.
Turn down the volume if possible.
Be aware of ambient noise that you may get used to over time, such as traffic on a familiar street or the sounds at a shopping center. Although these may not seem shocking to you or your child, if the decibel level is too high, these background noises can still cause ear damage.
Use canal caps, which are similar to earplugs but include a band that uses light pressure to keep the caps secure in the ear.
Consider “musician earplugs,” which are custom-molded to the wearer’s ears. These special earplugs allow a certain amount of natural sound while still offering great protection.
Use protective earmuffs, which are usually made of foam and plastic and come in a range of colors. These may be easier for children to take on and off themselves.
The NIH National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has provided this handy list to help you learn about different ear protection options. I highly recommend reading through it.
As you’re reviewing your options, be sure to check the noise reduction rating (NRR) of each ear protection device. The higher the NRR number, the more sound will be blocked.
Include your child in the selection process! The best ear protection is one the child will actually use. See what they like and what feels comfortable. You may need to try a few options before settling on what works best. Your local pharmacy or department store may have some selections, but you may also need to look online to find ear protection for your child.
What About Ear Protection for Kids with Hearing Aids or Cochlear Implants?
Children with supports such as hearing aids or cochlear implants must protect their ears the same way anyone else would. Here are a few guidelines for children using hearing aids or cochlear implants:
Don’t use a hearing aid as ear protection unless it has been specifically designed for that.
If the hearing aid does not allow upper volume control, remove your child’s hearing aid and put proper ear protection in place in noisy situations.
If the hearing aid does allow upper volume control, place ear protection such as earmuffs over top of the hearing aids.
For children with cochlear implants, speak with their healthcare provider about how and when it’s appropriate to wear ear protection or adjust their processors.
Allow regular “noise breaks” for children with hearing assistance devices. In addition to cutting down on physical ear damage, children (and adults) with hearing loss can experience auditory fatigue when they must process a lot of sounds. I wrote a little bit about this in my blog post, “The Brain's Ability to Hear in Different Ways.”
As we head into the summer (with outdoor fun, special activities, and the approaching camp season), give your child the gift of hearing protection.