An Unexpected Danger for Baby’s Hearing

How often do you think about the impact on your hearing from listening to music on your iPod, maybe a little too loudly? Do you wear hearing protection when mowing the lawn? What about hearing protection for your baby or child? When is that needed?

Certainly that was a concern for me and my husband when we started taking our son to a local air show when he was a toddler. The sounds of the jets were unbearable at times – even for me. And Elliott certainly let us know it was an issue for him, so we got big over-ear protectors that made a real difference.

So, if a sound is loud enough to harm our child’s hearing, we will know, right? The baby will cry. The toddler will cover his ears.

Well, not so, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Toronto. A review of popular baby sleep machines – such as the Graco Sweet Slumber Sound Machine and Baby Einstein’s Sea Dream Soother – found that, set on maximum volume, all of these machines exceeded recommended decibel levels for hospital nurseries – and a few exceeded workplace safe hearing limits for adults. You can read more about the findings of the study in this New York Times article.

The authors point out that these machines, which emit white noise or nature sounds to soothe babies to sleep, can mostly likely be used safely by keeping the machine at a lower volume and away from the baby, and also limiting the duration of use. But the thing that is so concerning is how widespread the recommendations to use these machines have become, without a proper understanding of their potential impact. We certainly used something like this – and never dreamed it could have negative effects on our son. These findings should also raise the question for all parents about other potentially damaging noises for babies. One example that comes to mind is the sound level of music at a church I’ve been to on occasion. The music was so loud that it actually hurt my ears. Although babies in the congregation were napping or playing – clearly this isn’t an all-clear signal that the noise level is safe.

The article also got me thinking about hearing protection as children age. One of the most common concerns is with tweens and teens and loud music – particularly when using ear buds. But there are other concerns as well, like loud sporting events and power tools at home. Some great advice on these and other hearing concerns for kids can be found at It’s a Noisy Planet, a program of the National Institutes of Health. And you can click here to download a brief Noisy Planet tip sheet, Sound Advice on Hearing Protection for Young Ears.

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About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team

Comments

3 Responses to “An Unexpected Danger for Baby’s Hearing”

  1. Dan says:

    It is so easy to suffer from hearing loss and not even know that you have damage done to your ears. From children to adults it is always a great idea to take steps to prevent hearing loss and to live a healthy life. Great write up Audra!

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