Hearing damage doesn’t just happen from being at a loud rock concert. There’s things in our homes and every day life that can cause hearing damage to adults – and to babies.
Is a baby’s hearing more sensitive?
Babies are more susceptive to hearing damage (and ear infections) than adults because of the smaller size of their ear anatomy. A baby’s ear canal is a smaller length than an adult so the sound reaches the middle ear faster. It’s like standing closer to a loud speaker where it’s uncomfortably loud vs being a few paces back and not noticing it as much. Sounds are louder to your baby than to you. It may not seem like a lot but it can cause hearing damage sooner to a baby than to you.
It’s hard enough (especially as a first time parent) to know if a baby is crying out of discomfort let alone why they aren’t comfortable. Add sound to the list of causes to check (along with the more common suggestions like burping, gas, poop, cold/hot, uncomfortable clothes or diaper).
1. Loud Environments
This one is pretty obvious. If you’re at a loud concert, movie theater (with a lively movie like an action film), or sports event, these are known to get so loud they could cause hearing damage to a baby. Even an elementary school cafeteria can get above safe limits for a baby if you’re in there for a long period of time.
The best solution is hearing protection. For babies, it’s best to use earmuffs since earplugs can be a hearing hazard. If you want to know more, check out Hearing Protection for Children.
If you want to learn how to check how loud an environment is (and if it’s safe): How Loud Is Too Loud for Kids?
Some movie theaters have family movie options (in my area they’re in the mornings, too!) The sound is played at a lower level, the lights are left on and sometimes there’s even a changing table in the theater.
2. Toys That are Too Loud
Toys require acoustic testing but it’s generally done at 12-24 inches. When was the last time you saw a baby hold a toy 24 inches away? Umm, never. Babies like to explore by putting toys in their mouths, near their faces and their ears and that’s part of how they learn.
As a rule of thumb, if a toy seems too loud to you (especially when you hold it near your ear) it’s too loud for your baby. If it’s too loud in the store, it’ll be too loud at home. Sometimes putting masking tape over the speaker is enough to bring the volume to a safe level. If you want more information on toys that are too loud check out:
3. Kissing On the Ears
Adults (and kids) love kissing babies. But, the suction of kissing over the ear can cause permanent hearing damage… Eeks, I know. An audiologist named Dr. Reiter discovered this ear-kiss syndrome (REKS) with is also called the “Kiss of Death.”
Now that I’ve presented this scary sounding syndrome from a kiss let’s put it in perspective. Most parents aren’t kissing their babies with hard suction completely covering their ear. We don’t do it to other adults cause it’s pretty uncomfortable to begin with. But, it’s just something to be aware of. If you have other kids, you may want to teach them not to kiss on ears altogether. One of Dr. Reiter’s earliest patients is a mom who’s daughter kissed her ear just the wrong way and it caused permanent damage.
4. Loud Noise Machines
I’ve read before (and maybe you have too) that babies like loud noise because it reminds them of the womb. But, there’s still a point where loud sounds do hearing damage. On top of it, a loud noise machine can actually disrupt sleep whether you’re a baby or an adult.
The big takeaway from research is never put your noise machine on max volume.Think about setting your noise machine soft enough, not loud enough. We’ve got a full article on this here: Is Your Baby’s Noise Machine Too Loud?
5. Loud Sounds at a Close Distance
There’s some instantaneous sounds that can cause hearing damage. These have to be really loud, though – like a jet engine, fireworks, or even a balloon at very close distance (this is a big one parents often don’t know about).
The solution is usually distance (when possible). If you’re going to a fireworks show, the further back you are the less chance you have of hearing damage. Or, have adults wear earplugs and children wear earmuffs. Even the NFL’s Tom Brady had his baby in earmuffs during the Super Bowl in 2018.
Not all loud sounds will cause hearing damage
Hearing damage doesn’t just happen from loud sounds – it’s the exposure to those sounds over time. Some sounds are so loud they could immediately damage your hearing (like if you’re right next to a speaker in a stadium or feet from a jet engine taking off). As you get lower in level, the amount of time you can be exposed to a sound without it causing damage is longer. For example, a hand dryer in a public restroom could cause hearing damage if you’re next to it for seven minutes. In practical use, you only in front of those from about 30 seconds to a minute.
Sound isn’t something we should be afraid of but it is something we should be aware of. With some simple small steps (and a little education), we can help our babies and children protect their hearing for a lifetime.