Silent Epidemic: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Children

06/25/2023 | Children's Hearing Loss, Hearing loss, Patient Resources

A large-scale American national health survey indicated that 12 to 15 percent of school-aged children have hearing deficits attributable to noise exposure. Studies conducted throughout the world report similar results, indicating that our world is experiencing a silent epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

As bad as these statistics sound, there is a bit of good news. Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable.

The goal of this article is to raise awareness of NIHL by providing a better understanding of what it is, its causes, and what you can do to prevent it from having a lifelong impact on your child.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss and Its Causes

The two different types of hearing loss in children are congenital and acquired.

Congenital hearing loss occurs before the child is born or during the birthing process, but acquired hearing loss is a condition that develops after the child is born and can be the result of a disease, a condition, or an injury.

Noise-induced hearing loss is the result of permanent damage or injury to the hair cells (stereocilia) located in the inner ear (cochlea). The damage to the stereocilia leads to a form of sensorineural hearing loss that cannot be medically or surgically corrected.

How Excessive Noise Damages Your Hearing

Noise-induced hearing loss can be the result of a single extreme noise event, like an extremely intense sound, explosion, or impulse, or from ongoing exposure to loud sounds over an extended period.

Noises that cause instant damage to your child’s hearing include jet engines, firearms, and fireworks within three feet of your child’s ear, as well as more intense explosions at a greater distance and the concussive force that accompanies them.

Gradual damage to your child’s hearing can be the result of ongoing exposure to sirens, jackhammers, and trains in proximity, as well as motorcycles, lawn and garden equipment, power tools, and other appliances operating within a few feet of your child’s ears.

Unfortunately, the most common cause of NIHL in children is music, videos, and video games played through earphones or earbuds at too high a level.

Noise exposure at major sporting events, concerts, and clubs also contributes significantly to the prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss.

Protect your child's hearing

Recognizing NIHL in Your Child

In younger children, hearing loss often shows up as delayed language skills and abnormal speech, but in older children there are some other indicators that they are experiencing hearing loss, such as:

  • An insistence on listening to TV or music at a high volume
  • Learning or behavioral difficulties at school
  • Not paying attention to conversations
  • Not responding when someone calls their name
  • Struggling to hear over background noise

Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Children

Your children should use ear protection in the form or earplugs of earmuffs whenever you know they will be exposed to loud noise during certain activities. However, they won’t wear them if you don’t wear them, so set the example by protecting your own ears when you’re working with power tools or lawn and garden equipment, discharging firearms, and engaging in other noisy activities.

In addition to wearing ear protection, Johns Hopkins University provides a few additional guidelines to help protect your children from NIHL, including:

  • Protect your child from loud noise (monitoring the volume of their personal listening devices)
  • Be aware of noises in your environment and avoid them or wear hearing protection
  • Become familiar with which noises are too loud and can cause damage
  • Get your child's hearing checked if hearing loss is suspected

Hearing Assessments for Children

As Oregon parents, we have the good fortune of having our children’s hearing tested at various intervals while they’re in school, but there are some wide gaps in testing that school-aged children can fall through.

One of the best ways to know the truth about your child’s hearing and to prevent further NIHL damage is a comprehensive hearing assessment.

Not only can Audiology and Hearing Aids Associates provide comprehensive hearing assessments for your children, but we also have custom hearing protection available to help with hearing loss prevention.

Click here if you’re concerned about your child’s hearing and want to do all you can to limit or prevent its impact on their future, or give us a call at (541) 612-7555.

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Erika Shakespeare CCC-A

Erika Shakespeare, CCC-A, specializes in pediatric and adult diagnostics and amplification. Working with adults to help manage tinnitus and hearing loss since 2002, she is an expert in both of these areas. Additionally, she is a pediatric audiology mentor and educator for pediatric audiologists across the country and is one of the most respected experts on pediatric audiology.

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