Many parents will slather their kids with sunscreen before a day at the beach, and they will douse them in bug spray before a hike in the woods. Some will oversee the brushing and flossing process carefully each night with a constant reminder to prevent cavities and some will triple-check the harness on a car seat before each ride. Parents run to pull toddlers off of staircases, inspect food carefully for allergens, and ensure the switchplates in their homes have protective covers to prevent electrocution.
However, sometimes even the most cautious and careful parents overlook the need to protect a child’s hearing. And this is a critical need that cannot be overlooked!
While some children suffer from some degree of hearing loss at birth that cannot be prevented, hearing losses in childhood caused by exposure to noise can and should be prevented. There are proactive steps every parent can take to prevent damage to the child’s ears which could result in temporary or even permanent hearing loss. We will take a look at some easy and practical things all parents can do to protect the precious ears of their little ones!
How Will Noise Exposure Affect My Child’s Hearing?
Noise-induced hearing loss can happen to anyone at any age. It affects millions of people throughout their lives, with some cases that may be temporary and some that are much more serious and permanent. Of course, noise is not the only hearing-loss risk your children may face, and not all causes of hearing loss are preventable. Diseases or illnesses such as Meniere’s Disease often result in tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and some degree of hearing loss. Certain medications, called oxotoxic drugs, can play a role in hearing loss, and some individuals are simply predisposed genetically to suffer from hearing loss. For children especially, hearing loss is a tremendous burden in education. Students who struggle to understand their teachers and peers will often feel isolated and have a difficult time in social situations. These feelings of isolation can also lead to anxiety and depression that can last into adulthood.
Any parent would wish to spare their child from this experience, and noise-induced hearing loss is one thing that can indeed be prevented. Noise exposure can affect children’s ears by damaging the hair cells in the cochlea. These cells transmit signals to the brain, and when they are damaged or die altogether they do not grow back. A child who cuts her own bangs will recover, but these hair cells in the ear are not be taken lightly!
The damage from noise doesn’t always surface right away, and it can happen after a single event (for example, the sound of a gunshot) or from prolonged exposure over time (for example, frequent concert attendance). Perhaps your child sits in to watch his brother’s band rehearse in the garage, or likes to jump on the riding mower with his father on a Saturday. Sometimes, these “everyday” activities can be dangerous to children’s ears, and parents should not overlook them.
What Steps Should I Take to Protect My Child’s Ears?
- Monkey see, monkey do! Think about how you as a parent protect your own ears. Just as you may wear a bicycle helmet while training your child to wear his first bike, make a point to wear your own ear protection in loud environments. Allow your child to see that you pop in ear plugs to mow the lawn or wear noise-canceling headphones at the air show. Setting a good example is one of the best ways you can teach children to value and protect their hearing.
- Limit Exposure. While taking your child to their first Taylor Swift concert may be the act that earns you the coveted Mom of The Year trophy, is cautious and careful in terms of how frequently you attend concerts with young children and be sure to take hearing protection for them. The same holds true for air shows and auto races, for major sporting events and gun ranges.
- Enforce the Rules. Once you establish a routine for when and where your child should wear ear protection, keep it consistent. While it might be tempting to give in to a wailing five-year-old in a public setting who doesn’t want to wear their protective gear, resist the urge to make an exception. Eventually, your child will know the drill and will know that certain activities mean ear protection just as a bike ride means a helmet will be worn and a car ride means a seatbelt will be used.
What Are the Best Hearing Protection Products for Kids?
There are some easy and budget-friendly options available to protect children’s ears and reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. The key thing to look for is the product’s Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). Remember that the higher the NRR, the better the protection.
Earplugs and earmuffs are the two basic options to explore. Ear plugs are easy to carry anywhere, and you might opt for a pair with a neck strap in case one falls out. They can be made of hard plastic or soft foam, and it may take some trial and error to find the most comfortable fit for your child. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when inserting the ear plugs into your child’s ears for a safe and comfortable fit.
Earmuffs, which look like headphones, are a more expensive option but with one very important “pro” over earplugs: your child is more likely to put them on correctly, versus possibly inserting an earplug incorrectly.
If all else fails and you find yourself in a noisy environment with no ear protection for your child, simply cover their ears with your hands. This is certainly better than no protection at all.