Brecksville SLP talks kids' hearing loss

Brecksville SLP Urges Parents to Proactively Protect Kids’ Hearing

As a Brecksville SLP (speech-language pathologist), I recognize it can be easy to disregard the possibility of hearing loss as a sad fact of getting older. However, what we’re seeing is that hearing loss – in particular noise-induced hearing loss – in younger and younger kids.

One analysis published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that approximately 12.5% of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 had already suffered some amount of noise-induced hearing loss. That’s a super high number, but it’s probably even higher now. That analysis was conducted in 2001, prior to the proliferation of cell phones and ubiquitous headphones and earbuds.

The Hearing Health Foundation indicates that repeated exposure to sounds 70+ decibels or higher can lead to hearing loss. For context, headphones and earbuds can easily reach 100+ decibels.

Brecksville SLP Breaks Down Causes of Kids’ Hearing Loss

The phrase “noise-induced hearing loss” conjures experiences like a blasting concert speaker, booming fireworks or a bomb blast. And sure, those things can cause hearing loss. But as our Brecksville SLP professionals can explain, that’s not what causes most kids’ hearing loss. More often than not, it’s prolonged exposure to noise that’s “fairly loud” – which kids experience more than you realize!

The body systems that allow us to hear involve tiny hairs inside the cochlea, or inner ear, that pick up sound waves vibrating in the ear drum, stimulate nerve cells, and send signals to the brain that are interpreted as sound. Humans aren’t made to withstand excessive noise for sustained periods. Biologically, we’re built to pick up those little sounds that could make a difference between life/death survival (a breaking branch, a bird call, a rustling in the leaves or other indicators of prey/predators). It was pretty rare that our ancient ancestors would have been hearing much above 100 dBA.

In our post-industrial modern world, we are exposed to sounds above that noise level ALL the time: Chainsaws, concerts, motorcycles, and even our headphones. Those tiny hairs of the inner ear end up sustaining damage that, over time, erodes our hearing ability. It’s happening to kids younger and younger than ever.

While the noise of a washing machine or dishwasher is about 70 dbA (which is considered a save level for sustained periods), music or TV volume at that level might lack clarity. So we turn it up. Even this can cause damage.

And even if there are no obvious signs of it now, it’s likely the exposure to loud noises that kids are experiencing today will be catching up with them in the near future. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that hearing lost is the No. 3 most common chronic physical ailment in this country – twice as common as cancer or diabetes. In fact, 20 percent of people in their 20s have hearing ranges that are are damaged or missing. What’s worse, they may not even know it. A quarter of adults with hearing damage reported their hearing was either good or excellent.

Young people especially tend to spend a lot of time listening to mobile devices and computers with earbuds or headphones. But there are even toys for toddlers that have been flagged as having noise levels well above the safe limit.

It’s sometimes helpful to think of noise exposure in the same way think of exposure to the sun: If it’s bright enough and are in it for long enough, you’ll burn – particularly if you aren’t wearing adequate protection.

And just like burning vs. tanning, some people may be genetically more susceptible to hearing loss, even at lower decibel levels.

How Can Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Kids Impact Speech-Language Development?

Noise-induced hearing loss in kids can have significant impacts on speech-language development because hearing plays a critical role in language acquisition and overall communication. Kids who have sustained hearing loss may struggle with:

  • Auditory input. If a child can’t hear certain frequencies or sounds, they’re going to be receiving distorted or incomplete auditory input. That can make it tougher for them to perceive and differentiate sounds, which leads to difficulties not only in learning, but it also means sounds may not be accurately produced.
  • Language comprehension. A child who has suffered hearing loss isn’t going to be able to understand the language being spoken to them as well as a child with full-functioning hearing. This is especially true in noisy environments or when the spoken words are rapid. Kids with noise-induced hearing loss are likely to struggle with following directions, keeping up in conversations, and understanding what is being spoken to them (a skill your Brecksville SLP will refer to as “receptive language”).
  • Social communication. A child who can’t hear as well as their peers may struggle to engage in social interactions, both with other kids and adults. They might struggle with following social cues, keeping up in conversations or engaging in cooperative play. All this can lead to difficulty in building social relationships and feelings of frustration and isolation.
  • Academic achievement. Spoken language skills are foundational for learning in most typical classrooms. If a child has trouble hearing the lesson, the instructions for assignments, the classroom discussions, etc., they’re going to have a tougher time with overall academic progress.

Protect Your Child’s Hearing

Although you can’t monitor the decibels of every sound your child encounters during the day, some tips from a pediatric Brecksville SLP:

  • Have hearing protections handy. Whether you’re at an amusement park or musical, keep some hearing protection in your bookbag, purse or diaper bag. Apple Watch actually has a noise exposure tracker that can be helpful in alerting parents to when sounds reach an unsafe level.
  • Find headphones that limit decibels to 85 dbA. Volume-limiting headphones can go a long way toward protecting your child’s hearing. Active headphones (those that are internally powered) tend to be best at limiting volume. Noise-cancelling headphones can also be great for minimizing the noise around you when the decibel level gets to be too high.
  • Limit the volume on your kids’ mobile devices. If your child has an Apple device, you can go to Sounds & Haptics –> Headphone Safety. Set the notification reminder for if someone is listening too loudly for too long, and reduce the seven-day loudness exposure limit volume-reducer. If you go to the calendar, there’s an option to lower loud sounds. On an Android, go to Sounds and vibration, and slide Media volume to 60%.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Kids Is a Growing Problem. Here’s How to Protect Little Ears, By Lauren Dragan, Nov. 11, 2021, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

Why Pediatric Speech Therapy Demand is WAY Up, Jan. 5, 2024, Brecksville SLP Blog