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Loud sounds are everywhere. About four in 10 young people have been around dangerously loud noises. But what noises are unsafe? Can you help protect your child from them? You can! Read on for information about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), and what you can do about it. HOW NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS CAN HAPPEN The world is made up of many different sounds. Most sounds are safe for hearing, but some sounds can damage hearing if they are too loud or are loud enough for an extended amount of time. When sounds become harmful to hearing, a person can develop noise-induced hearing loss. NIHL can happen at any age. More recently, it has become more common in children. NIHL is permanent, but it can be prevented. DANGEROUS VS. SAFE SOUND LEVELS Sound is measured in decibels (dB). The series of decibels can range from negative numbers (soft sounds) to numbers over 100 (loud sounds). As the number of decibels grows, the sound gets louder. Here are examples of various sounds and how soft or loud they typically are: Birds chirping 30-40 dBA Conversation 50-70 dBA Movie theater 80-105 dBA Gas lawn mower 90-110 dBA Concert 90-120 dBA Sirens 100-125 dBA Fireworks 130-150 dBA When loud sounds travel through the ear, they damage hair cells in the inner ear very quickly. This causes NIHL. Once these hair cells are damaged, they cannot repair themselves. WHAT SOUNDS ARE HARMFUL TO HEARING? Sounds are most likely to cause damage to hearing if: They are loud sounds that happen over a certain amount of time. Example: Going to a concert. One very loud sound or “impulse noise” takes place. Example: An explosion. You take part in certain recreational activities. Examples: ATV riding, listening to music too loud with headphones, target shooting, playing in a band, attending loud events, or completing household chores such as mowing the lawn. Sounds at 70 decibels (dBA) or lower are usually safe to listen to for any amount of time. Sounds at 85 decibels (dBA) can lead to hearing loss if a child listens to them for more than 8 hours. The louder the sound is, the less time you can listen to it safely. For example, listening to sounds at 90 dBA for a few hours will do the same damage as listening to sounds at 110 dBA for 2 minutes. COMMON SYMPTOMS OF NIHL These symptoms can happen gradually or suddenly. Long-lasting hearing loss Temporary hearing loss Having a hard time understanding others Ringing or clicking in the ears (called tinnitus) 4 WAYS TO PREVENT NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS Turn down the sound. Walk away from the sound. Limit the time spent with the sound. Wear hearing protection. KEEP NOISE DOWN AT HOME Lower the volume of electronics to the softest volume that they can be heard clearly. Find ways to make chores quieter, for example, close the doors between the laundry room and the rest of the house. Buy quieter toys and be aware of the noise rating of toys. When shopping for appliances, choose models that have a quieter noise rating. Use soft furnishings indoors to soften noise, such as putting carpets over hard floors. KEEP NOISE DOWN WHEN YOU’RE OUT AND ABOUT If you’re with your kids in an area where there is loud noise (group of loud cars or motorcycles rides by), cover your ears and have your kids do the same. Take earplugs for the whole family to loud events (a fireworks show, car race, or concert). Take note of where speakers are set up at events, and avoid sitting or standing right next to them. Talk to your kids about the damage loud sounds can cause. This is especially important as your children get older, start wearing earphones and enjoy turning up the music. (See our blog post on How to Listen to Earphones Safely.) Once noise-induced hearing loss happens, it can’t be reversed. CHOOSING HEARING PROTECTION Hearing protection helps protect children’s ears from loud sounds that can damage hearing. It lowers the loudness of sounds going into the ear, but does not totally block out sound. The most common types of hearing protection are earplugs, earmuffs and specially made devices. Kids most often wear earmuffs to protect their hearing. Make sure they fit well. Hearing protection that does not fit properly will not protect your hearing. Choose hearing protection that is comfortable and convenient – You’ll be more likely to wear hearing protection that is a good fit. Be a role model – Children look up to adults and their actions. It is important that adults are consistent in how and when they wear their protectors. Go shopping together – Children will be more excited to wear their hearing protection if they help pick out the style and color. Set clear rules – Tell children the expectations for wearing hearing protection. Talk about the places where wearing hearing protection would be important. Choose the right protection – Children may not want to wear their hearing protection if it makes it too difficult to hear other sounds
Hearing Protection In The Workplace When does hearing loss, or hearing impairment, become the result of a work-related exposure? After all, we live in a world where loud noises are common, like from heavy city traffic, or even the music so kindly being shared through the open windows of the car stopped next to you. And there’s often that person who thinks headphones are speakers and has the music playing loud enough that it can be heard by everyone in the room. So yes, loud noise is common. And yes, loud noise can lead to hearing loss. There is no denying that the tools that we use in our lines of work create loud noise, too, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that employees will lose their hearing. With the proper workplace hearing protection controls in place to eliminate, reduce, and protect against potentially damaging noise exposures, we reduce the chances that our employees will experience occupational hearing loss. Understanding Hearing Damage How loud does the noise need to be to damage a person’s hearing? Hearing loss can occur when exposed to 85 decibels of noise averaged over 8 hours. Let’s put this in perspective. Normal conversations typically occur at 60 decibels, well below the hearing loss threshold. Remember those headphones used as speakers? That music was probably playing at full volume, which can often register as 105 decibels. Here’s the thing, though. For every 3 decibel increase past 85 decibels, hearing loss can occur in half the amount of time. So it only takes 4 hours of exposure to 88 decibels for hearing loss to occur, and 2 hours of exposure to 91 decibels. Once noise levels exceed 100 decibels, a person can suffer hearing damage in as little as 15 minutes. The louder the noise, the faster hearing loss occurs. Noise Levels In The Workplace Where do the tools and environments where we work fit into this picture? Air compressors from 3 feet away register 92 decibels, which would take less than 2 hours to cause hearing loss Powered drills register 98 decibels, which would cause damage after 30 minutes Typical factories often register at 100 decibels – that’s 15 minutes of exposure Powered saws can reach 110 decibels from 3 feet away, which could cause permanent hearing loss in under 2 minutes In short, if workers are exposed to these noise levels without protection, then hearing loss is very likely. The only way to know the exact noise levels that workers are exposed to is to conduct noise monitoring using specialized equipment, though this is only required when exposures are at or above 85 decibels. Some indications that noise levels may be this high are if employees complain about the loudness of the noise, if there are signs suggesting that employees are losing their hearing, or if the noise levels make normal conversation difficult. Also consider that these conditions may not occur across the entire work site, but may be limited to a specific task or piece of machinery. How then, do we protect our employees and their hearing? The Importance Of Hearing Protection In The Workplace The best protection we can provide is to eliminate the hazard, by eliminating the need to work with the tools or in the environments that create these noise exposures. Realistically, though, this isn’t always possible. We can also work to reduce the noise levels that employees are exposed to. Some tools and machines are available that are designed to operate at lower decibels, therefore reducing the risk of hearing loss. We can also implement administrative controls, such as placing a cap on the number of hours that an employee can work in a high decibel environment, or limit the hours working with specific tools and equipment. Our final line of protection is Ear plugs and ear muffs, which can reduce the decibel exposures, providing protection against hearing loss. Ear plugs provide the greatest amount of protection as long as they are inserted correctly. Therefore, employees need to be trained to wear them correctly when they are used. Ear muffs can also reduce the decibel exposures, though not to the extent that ear plugs can. They are easier to wear correctly, though, which is why some workers prefer them. Some high decibel exposures may be unavoidable to perform the tasks necessary for our operations, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take steps to protect employees and their hearing while at work. What they do in their free time, like attending a rock concert (which can peak at 130 decibels), becomes their choice.
The world is full of loud noises, but some are particularly problematic for kids. A child's ear canal is smaller than an adult's, so the sound pressure generated is greater than in an adult's ear. This means that loud sounds are even louder for small children. Their internal ear structures are fragile, more sensitive, and especially prone to noise-induced damage. Here are a some common causes of hearing problems for children: Loud toys – Noise-making toys are popular, but some might do their job too well; some can produce sounds above 120 dB! If it's too loud for them to hold it next to their ear, think twice before buying or letting them play with the toy. Television volume – People tend to turn up the volume when watching television. This can sometimes be too loud for adults, let alone children (who can crawl close to the speaker). Events – Concerts, festivals, and sports events can be exciting and educational places to take your kids. They can also be very loud! Firework displays – Firework displays are guaranteed to be noisy, and short bursts of loud noise can still cause permanent hearing damage to adults and children alike. Household appliances – be careful not to use loud household appliances such as the vacuum, hairdryer, or blender too close to your children. Adults are used to these noisy home appliances, but they're loud enough to damage your child's hearing. White noise sleep machines – if you want to use an infant sleep machine test the sound output before leaving it in your child's room, place it as far away from them as possible, and use the lowest volume setting. How Loud is Too Loud? Sounds are measured in decibels (dB), and generally, noises under 80 dB won't harm a child's hearing unless they are exposed for many hours. What is deemed a ‘safe' sound is based on the duration of exposure, and it's a good general principle to reduce your child's exposure to any loud noise as and when you can. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that even very short bursts of extremely loud noise can cause permanent hearing damage. Monitoring your child's environment and being aware of the sounds that they are regularly exposed to is a crucial part of minimizing your child's exposure to loud noise. When noise is unavoidable, ear protection is your next best option. It's important to keep in mind that the hearing damage caused by noise exposure is permanent (there is no way to ‘cure', reverse, or completely treat the damage caused) and cumulative, meaning even one-off loud noises can eventually contribute to overall hearing loss. Types of Kids' Ear Protection Despite the sensitivity of their young ears, kids' hearing protection is not a commonly addressed issue among many parents. Communicate clear rules to your children about when you expect them to wear their hearing protectors. They need to know why they are important so that they are more likely to wear them even when you aren't there. Shopping for their hearing protectors with them can make the process more exciting. They'll feel more involved if they can choose a pair they like. Make sure you purchase ones that are appropriate for the activities they'll be needing them for, and keep them in an accessible place. Earplugs or Earmuffs for Kids' Hearing Protection? There are many different types of earmuffs on the market, giving you a range of size and style options. These special children-specific hearing protection options are designed to fit snugly on smaller heads and are more suited to a child's needs than earplugs. A hearing protector's level of protection is measured by its Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The higher the NRR, the better the earmuffs are at limiting sound exposure. This is a handy way to draw a general comparison between different products. When buying earmuffs, it is important to check that they fit properly on your child's head and aren't too loose. Buying in-store rather than online will be advantageous in this respect. If your child wears glasses, the earmuffs still need to make a seal over them yet remain comfortable. Can Young Children Wear Earplugs? It is not recommended that your children wear earplugs as they have the potential to push ear wax further into their ears, which can cause further hearing issues. They can also present a choking hazard if swallowed.