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Practical Tips for Avoiding Hearing Loss In Children

For many Alport syndrome patients, hearing loss is an inevitable reality. However, there are things that can be done to help protect against additional hearing damage. It is important for children with Alport syndrome to be especially diligent since they are already at risk for hearing loss.

Dr. Todd Landsberg, an Audiologist and Alport syndrome patient, talks about hearing loss prevention:

The Problem
As a good parent you go out of your way to make sure your children are safe. You warn them about all kinds of things that could potentially harm them.

“Billy, do not try to pet that growling dog.”

“Sally, do not open the door to strangers when I’m not home.”

Those are the types of things parents say on a regular basis. But when was the last time you cautioned your children about listening to music too loudly on their headphones or earbuds?

Maybe you have when you could actually hear the music emanating from their headphones. In reality, you probably never have mentioned it and don’t even consider it a problem.

Keep in mind, many kids today have earbuds in their ears for hours on end listening to music.  Keep in mind these sounds are pumped directly into their ear canals.  And when the children are around loud outside noises like lawn mowers, trucks or trains they frequently turn up the volume even more.

Damage to a person’s hearing is often caused by a combination of high volume and duration. Over time this can damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear that transmit sound impulses to the brain. In the worst case scenario individuals can get tinnitus, which is a constant ringing in the ears that often is permanent.

Sadly, I see advanced hearing loss today in teens that used to occur in 50-year-olds. This is not due to bad parenting. It is just the massive growth in MP3 players, iPods and iPhones that has made many of us oblivious to the potential damages to a person’s hearing.

How loud is too loud?
One recent study pointed out that people exposed to 85 decibels of sound for eight hours will likely develop hearing loss. Unfortunately, virtually all iPods can produce sounds in the range of 110-115 decibels (dB). Europeans have already taken actions on this and limit the software on iPods to 100 dB.

In practical terms, let’s look at how loud noise plays out in real life. Let’s say your son is mowing a lawn and the mower’s engine decibels are in the range of 80-85 decibels. If he is listening to an iPod while mowing he will likely crank the iPod up to 100-105 dB so he can hear the music. The mower is loud; the iPod is louder!

Unfortunately, according to hearing researchers, that boy should not listen at those levels for more than eight to 15 minutes or he will experience what we audiologists refer to as Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) damage. Keep in mind, the hair cells in the ear do not regenerate.  Once gone, always gone.

The Journal of Pediatrics reports that 12.5% of children ages 6-19 have noise-induced hearing loss. That’s a phenomenal 5.2 million kids who very likely will be fitted for hearings aids during their lifetime.

What can be done?
It is a tough challenge to get children to change their listening behavior.  After all, most youngsters have a belief that they are virtually immune from any danger.

Here are a few practical tips you might want to try:

  1. Ask your child if you could listen to his/her headphones at the volume they are currently set. If it is too loud for your comfort you can guarantee the levels are too high for them.
  1. Explain to them the long-term dangers of listening to music at loud levels for extended periods of time. Tell them to unplug more often and take a listening break.
  1. Let children know it is safe to regularly listen to their device at 70% of its maximum volume. Maxing out the volume can damage hearing in minutes.
  1. Encourage what researchers call the 60/60 rule. They should listen to the device for about 60 minutes at 60% of its maximum volume and then take a break.  Ears that have time to recover are less likely to be damaged.
  1. Have them use a headphone that sits over the ear rather than earbuds. Children can hear at lower levels with headphones than with earbuds since they often block out sounds ear buds don’t. Noise-deadening headphones are the best.
  1. If teens will be attending rock concerts (110 up to 140 dB), major football games (the KC Chiefs’ fans were recorded at 142.2 dB); hunting (140 to 170 dB) make sure they are wearing ear protection such as foam plugs. (If you are in the Coos Bay area stop by my office where I give free ear plugs.)

The good news is that for most people hearing loss is preventable. Even patients with Alport syndrome-related hearing loss can take steps to protect our hearing now by following some of these common-sense guidelines.

I have worn hearing aids for most of my life, but that is due to Alport syndrome. I know how precious hearing is, and make sure my patients know it each and every day.  As parents, reminding your children of this fact might be something you can do on a regular basis.

Dr. Todd Landsberg is with South Coast Hearing Center in Coos Bay, OR.