Hearing Loss in Children

Do you ever have to yell to get your child’s attention? Do you ask questions repeatedly and get no response? Does your teenage daughter turn her stereo up so loud in her room that you can hear the music all the way through the house? If this sounds like your child, then there’s a chance her behavior is not just willfulness or acting out. She may be suffering from mild to significant early hearing loss.

A 2000 study, Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, revealed that 5.2 million children and teenagers aged 6 to19 acquired hearing loss from exposure to loud noise. What has caused such a dramatic increase in hearing loss among the younger population? The answer may lie in your child’s music listening habits and the ever increasing use of mp3 players and ipod devices.

Hearing Loss in the Next Generation
There has been little research conducted on the damaging side effects of listening to personal music listening devices. Currently the debate is re-emerging now that doctors are encountering more teenagers and children with evidence of early hearing loss. Hearing specialists from the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, Children’s Hospital Boston and the American Academy of Audiology propose that teenagers will have significant hearing loss by the time they are adults and will have to be fitted with hearing aids.

How Does Hearing Loss Occur?
Hearing loss is caused by a number of factors, including genetics, accumulation of ear wax, certain medications, age, a broken eardrum, ear infections or from prolonged exposure to loud noise. Loud noise damages the hair cells of the cochlea of the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss. Using iPods and mp3 players can cause sensorineural hearing loss because young people listen for hours at a time and turn up the volume to drown out other noise.

In 2004, the Children’s Hospital Boston wanted to find out what would be deemed safe exposure time for listening to headphones. They determined that the safe exposure limit is one hour of music listening with the volume adjusted to 60%. If your child listens to a portable music player for several hours or more with the volume above 80 to 90 decibels, he is at risk of developing significant hearing loss.

Causes of Hearing Loss
Essentially there are two ways people acquire permanent hearing loss from exposure to loud noise. Your child can have permanent damage to their ears from even brief exposure to exceedingly loud noises like gunfire. On the other hand, if your child is repeatedly exposed to moderate levels of noise for long periods of time, the hair cells in the cochlea will become permanently damaged and cause permanent hearing loss.

According to the American Hearing Association, brief excessively loud sounds can cause instant hearing loss while exposure to the moderate noise causes gradual hearing loss. Instant hearing loss may happen within a day while gradual hearing loss may be over a number of years.

Signs of Hearing Loss
Wondering if maybe your child has already caused some damage to his ears after all those hours with his headphones on? If he displays any of these symptoms, you may want to take him for a hearing test:

  • Has troubles understanding word; has particular problems when out in crowds or when there is a lot of background noise
  • Often asks people to repeat themselves or to speak slowly, clearly and loudly
  • Complains that people and noises sound muffled
  • Avoids certain social situations and doesn’t participate in conversations as often
  • Constantly has to increase the television or stereo volume

How to Prevent Hearing Loss in Children
If you suspect your child is suffering from hearing impairment there are several steps you can take to minimize damage to their ears and prevent further hearing loss:

  • Take your child to an Audiologist to be tested.
  • Limit the amount of time your child spends listening to an iPod or mp3 player or watching television to one or two hours a day with the volume under 80 decibels. If you can hear the sound of your child’s music from their mp3 player while sitting next to them, it is too loud. Your child should be able to have a conversation with you without having to turn the music down.
  • Inform your nanny, babysitter and relatives of the dangers of loud noises to your child. Studies have shown that many talking toys children play with exceed 120 decibels.
  • If your teenager is going to a rock concert, sports event, or an outdoor activity, encourage them to wear ear protection to prevent hearing loss. If they refuse to wear them, you can politely inform them that hearing loss can result in deafness and wearing hearing aids for a lifetime.
  • If your child already has suffered from hearing loss, you can meet with your child’s school teacher to discuss how she can help with your child’s hearing problems and hearing loss treatment.