Your baby’s little ears are precious. Which is why you need to do everything you can to protect them. However, sometimes this may not be possible. Certain factors beyond our control may force babies to be exposed to loud noises. What is the right thing to do in such situations?
It is true that sounds are actually louder for infants than they are for adults because of the size of their ears. When it comes to babies and noise, the simple rule of thumb is this: the louder an environment or anything else for that matter is, the less time you should expose your baby to it. This sounds pretty straight forward, but for many parents, it is easier said than done.
What you need to know
Under normal circumstances, babies are born with nearly perfect hearing. However, some babies are born with hearing problems. You need to be on the lookout for these from the very beginning. This is because if left undiagnosed, hearing problems in babies can lead to speech impediments among other issues later in life.
That being said, it can be quite difficult to tell if your child is born with a hearing problem, or worse, if they are born deaf. Your healthcare provider will usually screen your baby for hearing problems soon after birth. It is normal for some babies to fail this first test. If this happens, another screening will be prescribed for a few days later.
All babies should be screened soon after they are born. If screening isn’t done at the hospital before you get sent home, it is your responsibility to ensure that you schedule it within a month after birth.
What things pose a danger for their ears?
Hearing problems in babies occur for a large number of reasons. Top of the list is genetics. Faulty genes are responsible for about 75 percent of hearing loss cases in newborns. However, they are not the only thing to blame. Hearing loss can also be as a result of prematurity at birth, low birth weight, complications due to jaundice, and delivery problems like lack of oxygen at birth. Some infections and diseases also lead to hearing loss in newborns.
However, sometimes the source of danger is right in your own home. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, any noise level above 91 dB is extremely loud and dangerous to hearing. And many household appliances and children’s toys produce sounds way louder than that.
Since infants perceive sound better than adults, if the noise is dangerous to you, it is even more dangerous to your baby. For babies, anything above 85 dB puts them at risk of gradual hearing loss. This includes noisy toys, a lawnmower, snow blowing, or even a hairdryer.
Here is a list of common household items and how they rate:
- Vacuum Cleaner: 70 decibels
- Hairdryer: 70-75 decibels
- Dishwasher: 75 decibels
- Washing machine: 78 decibels
- Blender: 85 decibels
- Lawnmower: 90 decibels
Some toys are a lot louder than the noisiest appliances. The Sight and Hearing Association publishes a Noisy Toys List every year. It is important for every parent to check out that list to make sure that the toys they are buying are not potentially dangerous to their children.
For most of the toys on the noisy list, the levels apply only if the child holds the baby right next to their ear. But who is to say your baby won’t do exactly this?
Other potential hazards include:
- Television volume
- Events such as concerts, sports events, and festivals
- Firework displays
- White noise sleep machines
Tips to preserve baby’s hearing
If you are in an area where the noise level is above 91 dB, ASHA recommends wearing earmuffs or some form of hearing protection. This also applies to babies.
But how can you tell when a certain environment is too loud? Well, an easy way to check is to find out if you must raise your voice to be heard, or if you cannot hear someone talking less than three feet away from you. If you are still unsure, there are a number of free noise level testing apps that you can download and use to check.
You should also consider buying hearing protection for your baby if you feel like they will be in a noisy environment for an extended period of time. Most baby hearing protection sets are trendy, colorful, and customizable, and they allow your baby to still hear what’s going on but at a safe level.
While earmuffs and noise reduction headphones come highly recommended, earplugs do not. They are a bad idea for infants and very young children because they are small enough to be choking hazards. So, avoid them at all costs.
Sometimes, it may not be possible to avoid sudden loud noises. For example, a jackhammer or an ambulance on the street may be unavoidable. It is good to play it safe and always bring your noise-cancelling headphones with you whenever you go out. If you do not have earmuffs, consider avoiding places you know could be potentially too loud.
Finally, no matter what you do, never employ ad hoc methods of hearing protection with babies. This includes using cotton balls, tissue paper, or anything else that sounds like it could work in theory. As long as you are not using hearing protection sets that have been specifically designed to perform that role, do not risk causing permanent damage to your child’s hearing by using ad hoc methods.
The only sure-fire way to confirm that your baby’s hearing is fine is to get a clean bill of health from an audiologist or an otolaryngologist.
However, if your baby is about 6 months old, you can perform your own quick test by whispering their name while standing a foot or two behind them to see if they will turn towards you. If they do, that is a good sign. If you suspect that your child might have a hearing problem, get their hearing professionally checked.