Has your child been using headphones more than usual during the COVID-19 crisis? Perhaps they are using it for online learning, during video chats with other loved ones, or while listening to their favorite music or shows on Netflix. Parents should be careful about the volume and duration of using headphones during the pandemic, but fortunately, there are ways to prevent long-term hearing loss.
Studies Detail Hearing Loss and Listening Habits
Tahir Hussain, Abdulah A. Alghasham, and Muhammad Raza of life science and biomedical journal portal PMC conducted a survey from 2008 to 2009 in Karachi, Pakistan’s 170 schools. Among 5,120 children, 53.3% were male and 46.8% were female. 86.4% of the children were observed to have normal hearing (<25 dB) while 13.6% had some degree of hearing loss (>25 dB).
There was no difference in the prevalence of hearing impairment among males (14.1%) and females (13%). Among 696 who had hearing impairment, 12% had mild hearing loss (26-40 dB), 0.8% had moderate hearing loss (51-70 dB), and 0.2% had severe hearing loss (71-90 dB). None of the children were deaf. Among hearing impaired children, 88.2% had conductive hearing loss, 8.3% had sensorineural hearing loss, and 3.5% had mixed type of hearing loss.
Most children (61.2%) with conductive hearing loss had impacted wax in one or both ears while 12.7% had unilateral or bilateral discharging ears suggestive of chronic suppurative otitis media. Other findings documented by the researchers were fungal infection (1.6%) and foreign body (1.3%). The authors advocated for the promotion of ear hygiene among school children and affirmed that ear infections should be promptly diagnosed to prevent complications, as said in their 2011 study.
Stephen E. Widen and colleagues of PMC said their first part of the study involved 280 adolescents aged 17 years old, which was focused on self-reported data on subjective hearing problems and listening habits with regard to using music players. However, only 279 students were included as information on the sex of one adolescent was missing.
97.1% of the participants listened to music with a PMD (portable music device). 88.6% listened to music every day or several times per week. The most common type of headphones used were canal phones (49.4%) and regular earbuds (37.9%). Among 279 participants, 71% reported no hearing problems while 14% reported having poor hearing. 7% to 8% of the adolescents said they often or always experienced hearing problems such as tinnitus, sound sensitivity, and sound fatigue.
Widen and colleagues then measured the hearing function and music exposure levels among 50 adolescents who volunteered for the second part of the study. In the subsample, 46% used their PMD daily while 48% used it several times a week. 86% of the 50 participants listened for 0.5 to <2 h/occasion while 14% listened for three hours or more. Out of the 50 adolescents, 60% said they have no hearing problems and 16% said they have poor hearing. 18% said their tinnitus last longer than five minutes and another 18% said they are sensitive to sound.
All adolescents who listened to music <85 dB LAeq used their music devices during transport (versus 90% of those who listen between 85-100 dB LAeq), 98% also used it during personal transport (versus 100%), and 50% listened to music during classes/homework (versus 70%). Participants who listened to music at higher sound levels (85-100 dD LAeq) reported more hearing problems.
For example, 40% reported having tinnitus (versus 12% of those who listened to music at <85 dB LAeq) and noise sensitivity (versus 12%). 30% also reported becoming tired of sounds (versus 12%). Out of the 50 adolescents, 60% said they have no hearing problems and 16% said they have poor hearing. 18% said their tinnitus last longer than five minutes and another 18% said they are sensitive to sound. The authors concluded in their 2017 research that longer lifetime exposure, louder volumes, and higher listening frequencies were correlated with poorer hearing thresholds and self-reported hearing problems.
Place Volume Restrictions
The loudness of sound is measured in decibels (dB), but you should remember that the dB scale is logarithmic rather than linear, meaning a 110 dB sound is 10% louder than a 100 dB sound. You can download free sound meter apps to help you understand the volume of various environments and activities.
You can also secure volume restrictions on your child’s Apple device or mp3 player with a password, according to Sophie Scott and Rebecca Armitage of ABC News, a public news service in Australia. Another alternative is to download web apps on Google Chrome to restrict the volume if your child likes watching videos on their computer.
However, monitoring the loudness within your child’s headphones can be challenging. Some headphones leak the sounds out while others insulate the sound. In that case, your child may be listening to extremely loud sounds when using a “leaky” pair of headphones or if they are using a pair of tightly-sealed headphones, they could be playing sounds at potentially damaging levels.
Check if your child can hear you talk at a normal volume at an arm’s length away. If they can hear you, your child may be listening to sounds at a safe volume. You can also invest in headphones that limit the maximum loudness to 85 dB. However, there are still risks involved when listening to 85 dB sounds all the time.
Schedule Some Breaks or Headphones-Free Hours
Noise exposure is cumulative considering that it can originate from other sources within your child’s environments. What are your child’s activities during the day? Does it involve consecutive noisy activities such as music practice, headphone use, playing with noisy toys or games? Consider scheduling breaks to allow your child’s ears to recover once you have assessed their daily activities. Most importantly, practice what you preach! Be responsible when using headphones and help your child be aware of the benefits of being able to hear well when they become adults.
Headphones should be used in moderation to prevent long-term hearing damage or loss. Parents should avoid engaging their children in consecutive noisy activities to help their ears recover. After all, a person’s sense of hearing is as important as our other senses.