Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
When school lets out for the summer and the temperatures rise, families all over America gear up to enjoy the activities that come along with the season. Swimming, traveling, even taking in a parade or fireworks display or two, are all fun activities to look forward to. Naturally, you’re always concerned about your family’s health and safety. So, along with reminders about how to safely enjoy all the fun, don’t forget to include a few that deal with keeping their hearing healthy, too.
Without a doubt, the most important thing you can do to protect your child’s hearing is to reduce the noise in their environment. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), almost 40 million people of all ages have some type of hearing loss in one or both ears caused by exposure to noise. This includes 17 percent of teens age 12 to 19.
As a rule of thumb, noises that register less than 85 decibels (dB) are considered safe. For example, a bedroom at nighttime (30 dB), noise in an average suburban neighborhood (50 dB) and even an automobile (70 dB) passing by are all safe. Comparatively, exploding fireworks (130 dB), outdoor concerts (100 dB), fire truck sirens (130 dB) and marching bands (100 dB) in a typical parade can all produce noise that is dangerous to your family’s hearing health.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is permanent — but fortunately 100 percent preventable. Here are some tips to safeguard your child.
- Lower the volume. Turn down the car radio and television. Monitor the volume level on your child’s personal electronic devices and use the 60-60 rule: no more than 60 minutes a day at no more than 60% of the volume. They may grumble a little now, but they’ll thank you when they’re older.
- Move away from the noise. If the music seems a little too loud at the concert, it probably is. Take note of where the speakers are located and find a good seat farther back from the stage. Find a seat up on the hill to enjoy the fireworks, far away from where they’re being launched.
- Wear hearing protectors. Parades, firework displays and sporting events are fun, but the noise they generate can damage hearing. Since, NIHL can occur from exposure to excessive noise over a long period of time as well as from a one-time loud noise, such as an explosion, it’s always a good idea to be aware of noise levels in your environment. Reduce the risk by wearing foam earplugs, available from the local drugstore, or noise-canceling earphones.
Ahhh, nothing says summertime like a dip in the nearest body of water — even if it’s just a run through the sprinklers in your backyard. Adding some extra precautions to your water safety routine can help prevent swimmer’s ear and related ear infections that occur when water becomes trapped inside.
- Gently towel dry your child’s ears after swimming and bathing. Have them tilt their head to lay one ear on the towel and then the other while you wipe away any excess water.
- Use custom fit swimmers’ earplugs, especially if your child is prone to developing ear infections or swimmer’s ear. These specialty earplugs are designed to keep the inner ear dry and protected from harmful bacteria present in many natural bodies of water, such as oceans, rivers and lakes. If your child has ear tubes, follow your family doctor’s recommendations.
- If water should become trapped inside the ear canal, tilt the affected ear toward the ground and gently pull on the earlobe to encourage gravity to expel the water. Chewing gum or yawning will also encourage the water to drain naturally.
Talk to your kids about their hearing and how important it is for them to protect it. Even though you are vigilant about their hearing health, you won’t always be right by their side. Here are simple things they can do to protect their own hearing:
- Nothing in the ear canal. Sometimes ears get itchy but make sure your children understand that it’s not appropriate to stick anything inside their ear canal — ever. Objects like hairpins and cotton swabs can actually do more harm than good, by impacting earwax and puncturing the eardrum. Teach them to come find you when they have an itchy ear so you can apply a warm compress. If the situation persists, consult your family physician. An itchy ear can be a sign of allergies, dry skin or an ear infection among other things so you’ll want to monitor the situation closely.
- Use their hands. If your kids ever find themselves in a noisy situation when you’re not around, tell them to gently press the palm of their hands over their ears. The action isn’t as effective as wearing earplugs or earmuffs, but it will muffle sound.
- Move away from the noise. Along with using their hands to shield their ears comes moving away from the noise — safely. Tell them to notify the adult in charge that the sound is too loud for their ears so they can remove them to a quieter location.
Healthy hearing resources
You’re not in this alone. The following are just a few suggestions for additional resources which can aid you in your quest to protect your family’s hearing health this summer:
- Noise canceling headphones – If your family enjoys hobbies with lots of volume, such as motorcar racing, you’ve probably already invested in custom noise-canceling headphones for your children. Prices range anywhere from $4 to more than $1,000 depending upon the manufacturer and desired features.
- Earplugs – Inexpensive, disposable foam earplugs are readily available at local drugstores and easy to tuck inside a suitcase, purse or car console. Pick up a few packages the next time you’re out so you’ll have plenty on hand for all your summertime fun — and in case you find yourself in an environment where decibel levels are unexpectedly high.
- Parental control devices – Now is a good time to explore options available to you on your child’s personal electronic devices. All mobile devices made by Apple have parental restrictions available and the Google Play store has apps to limit volume on Android devices. Many of today’s televisions and computers have similar features, too. Just check the online manuals for details.
- Good role models – Children are great mimics so when they see their parents wearing hearing protection, listening to personal electronic devices at a safe volume or carefully drying their ears after a swim, they’re more likely to follow suit.
- Annual checkups – Finally but most importantly, make an appointment for an annual family hearing evaluation with a qualified hearing healthcare professional before the school bell rings in the fall. The hearing health history you develop with this medical professional, combined with the safeguards you provide throughout the year, will keep everyone in your family hearing their best all year.