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Making kids part of the conversation

Contributed by | Monday, July 27th, 2015

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Take teachable moments to 
make your kids or grandkids 
part of the conversation about
hearing health. 

As parents, we know it’s important to talk to our kids about all of the important issues. From bullying to Internet safety to responsible driving, conversation is important. But unfortunately one issue most people probably don’t think to talk to their kids about is hearing health.

Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the United States after heart disease and diabetes. Yet generally the perception of hearing loss is that it's an “old person’s” problem. Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can happen as a result of exposure to harmful noise, and doesn’t discriminate based on age; according to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.1 million young people are at risk of developing NIHL due to personal audio devices and exposure to loud music. Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri, an ear, nose, and throat specialist from Munster, Indiana, estimates that hearing loss among today's teens is about 30 percent higher than in the 1980s and 1990s. And once the damage is done, it's permanent.

The problem is that damage to hearing is often “hidden” until it is too late. "Noise exposure in kids is a growing concern," said Nicole Raia, a clinical audiologist at University Hospital in New Jersey. Raia said she sees more tinnitus in young people, an early sign of hearing loss — and a different hearing issue than NIHL, but says, "We don't catch them until they are in their 20s and 30s."

So yes, talking about hearing health is important. When you’re with your kids, look for teachable moments to talk about hearing health and hearing safety. During these times, children are more receptive and willing to listen. It’s never too early to start the conversation; even young children can be receptive to information about hearing health. When in a loud situation — for example when a fire truck passes by — take that opportunity to talk about how loud the sound is and how the firefighters make sure to protect their hearing.

In addition, modeling healthy hearing behaviors for your kids means they will be more likely to make good decisions when it comes to protecting their own hearing. Think about it; do they see you wearing earmuffs when mowing the lawn? Do you wear earplugs when attending a football or basketball game? Your own healthy behavior can go a long way in protecting the hearing health of your kids. 

You can also point out stories about hearing health or hearing loss in the news as a jumping off point to conversation. Or when a celebrity is photographed with hearing protection, such as at a concert or at a sporting event, showing the picture to your child could prompt a discussion.

One problem previous generations didn’t face is the prevalence of MP3 players; it seems every tween and teen today is sporting earbuds. Kids are at greater risk of hearing damage if they use earbuds, due to the fact that earbuds funnel music directly to the eardrum, which has the potential to raise the volume as much as 9 decibels. A better option is over-the-ear headphones. “Protecting your child’s hearing is extremely important. In today’s society it is popular to turn up the volume of your favorite music,” said William Turner, MD, director of the hearing loss and cochlear implant program at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “But our ears are sensitive organs and they can’t handle loud music or sounds like we think they can. It is important for parents to help their children know what precautions to take in order to help prevent hearing loss at a young age.”

The best option is no headphones or earbuds at all. But if kids are going to use earbuds, a higher quality pair will transmit the bass more effectively without having to crank up the volume. Also, experts recommend following 60/60 rule when it comes to earbuds. That means listening to music at 60 percent of maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes at a time. And remind your kids that if others can hear their music, it is at a potentially damaging volume and they should turn it down.

Here are some easy tips to protect kids’ hearing health:

  • Lower the volume when listening to music, especially while using earbuds or headphones.
  • Use earplugs when attending loud concerts or sporting events.
  • Ear protection should always be worn when using lawnmowers or other lawn equipment.
  • Earplugs or earmuffs should be worn during loud recreational activities such as dirt biking, hunting or snowmobiling.
  • Lower the sound and voice settings on a cell phone.
  • Purchase good quality headphones or earbuds.
  • Adults should model good behaviors when it comes to hearing protection.
  • Magnesium-rich foods such as yogurt, bananas or almonds may prevent hearing loss.

The bottom line is that the more attention is paid to hearing health early on, the better the outcome will be for our kids when they reach adulthood. Dr. Laura Swibel Rosenthal, pediatric otolaryngologist at Loyola University Healthcare System, agrees.  “The feeling of aural fullness and mild hearing loss that most of us have experienced immediately after recreational noise exposure is usually temporary. But exposure to loud sounds over time can have a cumulative and permanent effect on hearing, so protect your kids’ ears now to keep them hearing in the future.” 

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