Parent Alert: Are Earphones Harming Our Kids’ Hearing?

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     Manic:  When traveling with my tween and teen, I’m quick to toss them earphones to turn my restless kids into quiet happy beings.  This way the trip time passes smoothly and the car or airplane ride is peaceful….but are those earphones doing more harm than good?

Managed:  When my friend suggested that I write about this topic, I asked her if she would do a guest post since she is a Teacher of the Hearing Impaired and has been for 18 years.  So, teacher Lisa Walton went to work researching this topic to help us moms to be informed, which helps us to make better decisions when it comes to our kids and their beloved earphones.  She did a great job with the article, so read on, as this definitely gives us parents something important to think about when it comes to our kids and their ears.  Plus, she shares some helpful tips on how to protect those precious ears.

Lisa says:

Bad News

According to ENT Today ( Jan. 2010,) with the increasing use of iPods and other MP3 players, children and adolescents are putting their hearing at risk. Before MP3 players, hearing loss among children was estimated at around 12.5 percent.  More recent studies, however, estimate that 16 percent of teenagers, or approximately 6 million children, suffer from permanent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Good News

As a result of a 2006 lawsuit, Apple and other companies placed parental controls allowing parents and caregivers to set maximum volume limits.  Apple has also included information on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss on their Web site (,

The Main Culprits

Ear buds Ear bud head phones are small ear pieces that can be inserted into the ear. They can boost the signal by as much as six to nine dB. That’s about the difference between the sound of a vacuum cleaner and a motorcycle, according to Dean Garstecki, professor at Northwestern University.

The risk of excessive volume when using ear bud head phones makes them more hazardous to use than the older and larger muff-type earphones.  The ear buds positioned inside the ears are not efficient at blocking outside sounds as the cushioned headsets.  As a result, the volume often gets increased to drown out the outside noise.  To make matters even worse, the loud noise from the ear phones is produced right inside the ear.

 Noise Induced Hearing Loss

With NIHL (Noise Induced Hearing Loss), the primary area where the ear is damaged is not the eardrum, or middle ear — it is actually deeper inside. It’s where the nerve that brings the sound message up to the brain connects with the inner ear, and it involves some very specialized hair cells. When they’re overexposed or stimulated at too high a level for too long a duration, they end up being metabolically exhausted. They lose their function, so sound has to be made louder in order for you to hear it.  These cells can recover after a single exposure, but if you overexpose them often enough, they end up dying, and you lose that functional ability inside your inner ear.  The cells that die are not replaceable.

 Ways To Protect Your Ears:


  • 60/60 Rule:  Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston recommend that no MP3 player should ever be used at full volume.  Instead, the volume should be kept at no higher than 60 percent of the maximum and that it should be used for no more than about 60 minutes a day.
  • Set parental controls or maximum volume levels on MP3 players, mobile phones, etc.
  • Use muff or sound reduction headphones instead of earbuds.
  • Wear earplugs at concerts:  Sound levels at rock concerts can often reach dangerous levels for hearing (the same levels as jet engines, firearms, firecrackers, etc).
  • Have hearing checked if you suspect a problem:  See an ENT or have an Audiologist check your hearing.  School hearing screenings may not always detect NIHL.







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