No doubt you’ve seen the photos of Prince George and Boomer Phelps wearing ear muff hearing protectors. Did you ask yourself why? Daniel Fink, M.D., a leading noise activist, explains:
These little boys aren’t working in noisy factories. They aren’t going to the shooting range. They aren’t going to a rock concert. They are just doing things that normal little boys like to do, going to an air show or watching daddy swim. But Prince George’s parents and Boomer’s parents know one important thing: NOISE CAUSES DEAFNESS.
Dr. Fink states that the places and events parents bring their children to–whether by choice or circumstance–are often loud enough to damage hearing permanently. Unlike British royalty or Olympic athletes, most parents simply don’t know that their children could suffer permanent hearing damage by being in a loud place with no hearing protection. Dr. Fink believes that the lack of warnings highlights a general failure by the medical community, which should be advising parents to protect their children’s hearing. He notes that respected online parenting resources make no general recommendations about protecting children from noise, mentioning only the dangers of infant sound machines for babies and loud music for teens.
It’s not just the medical community that is failing children. Federal and state governments do little to inform citizens of the danger loud noise poses to health or to protect them from noise exposure. There is very little regulation of noise in public spaces and absolutely no oversight of consumer products that can damage hearing.
Dr. Fink states that “there is an increase in hearing loss in young people, perhaps because parents don’t know the dangers of noise for hearing.” He notes that race cars produce sound up to 130 decibels, air shows can produce sound up to 130 decibels, rock music concerts can reach 110-115 decibels, action movies range between 100-125 decibels, and sporting events can be loud, too, at 100-120 decibels.
Children can also be exposed to loud noise at home. Personal listening devices can reach up to 115 decibels, a sound level that is guaranteed to damage hearing if exposure is more than a few minutes, and yet there is no government mandated warning for the purchasing public. In addition, there are headphones marketed specifically for children that use a 85 dBA occupational noise exposure limit as a volume limit to prevent hearing loss.
“The commonly cited safe noise level of 85 decibels is really an industrial-strength occupational noise level developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for workers,” says Dr. Fink. He adds that “even with strict time limits of noise exposure, some workers exposed to this noise level will develop hearing loss. One thing is for sure: 85 decibels is not a safe environmental noise exposure level for the public and certainly not for children.”
And Dr. Fink has an impressive ally in his fight against the misuse of the 85 decibel industrial-strength standard. In May 2016 , the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted content addressing Environmental Noise Exposure and Health, in which it stated that in 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the average daily noise exposure be limited to an average of 70 decibels for a whole day, with no more than one hour at 85 decibels. The CDC noted that World Health Organization also “recommend[ed] that noise exposure levels should not exceed 70 dB over a 24-hour period, and 85 dB over 1 hour period to avoid hearing impairment.”
So what can you do to protect your children’s hearing? Treat noise like you treat sun exposure. When you take your child to the beach, you protect his or her eyes and skin by giving them sunglasses, a hat, and by applying sunscreen. If noise caused vision loss instead of hearing loss, everyone would be more vigilant in addressing it. So apply the same degree of vigilance when your child will be exposed to noise as you would when your child is exposed to full sun. Dr. Fink advises that the best thing a parent can do is to not bring a child, at whatever age, to loud events. “If that can’t be avoided,” he cautions, “then at the least protect your child’s hearing with ear muff style hearing protectors.” That is, follow what Prince George’s parents and Boomer Phelps’ parents do. Dr. Fink, a father of two, adds that, “the best way to make sure your kids do something is for you to model the behavior yourself. If it’s loud enough for your children to be wearing hearing protection, you should be wearing it too.”