Smoke detectors for people with hearing loss
Alternative fire alarms to keep you safe
Having a smoke detector in place is a simple, hugely effective strategy to prevent yourself from harm: Your risk of dying in a fire in your home falls by 55 percent when there’s a working smoke alarm present, per the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
And for many people, the attention-grabbing blare of a fire alarm is all you need. If you have impaired hearing, though, the din of these life-saving devices may not be an effective alert to the presence of smoke, fire or carbon monoxide.
Alarms with flashing lights, as well as special vibrating alarms designed to wake someone who’s sleeping, are available for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment.
Here’s what you need to know to ensure you have an alarm that provides you with the alert you need.
Why it matters
“Today more than ever, it’s important for residents to have the earliest possible notification of an emergency,” says Sharon Cooksey, a fire safety educator at Kidde, an alarm manufacturer.
That’s because escape time is lower now than previously needed—just two to three minutes—due to more fast-burning synthetic materials in homes, she says.
“This makes a quick evacuation a top priority,” Cooksey notes.
People at the highest risk of being harmed or dying in a fire include children, people who are under the influence of drugs/alcohol, and people with hearing loss, statistics show.
Choose a smoke alarm that’s suitable for your hearing loss
If you have high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss due to either age or noise exposure, an ordinary alarm may not give you the alert you need, says audiologist Rich Panelli of Nevada ENT.
“The risk of a normal alarm is that some produce only a high-frequency sound, and some do not produce an alarm loud enough for [people with] a severe to profound hearing loss to pick up,” Panelli says.
This is particularly significant at night, when people are likely to remove their hearing aids.
“NFPA advises that older adults or other people who are hard of hearing (those with mild to severe hearing loss) can use a device that emits a mixed, low-pitched sound,” Cooksey says.
Smoke alarms when you're hard of hearing: Options
There are a few different options available, including:
Whichever alarm system you select, make sure everyone in the house knows what signal (whether it’s light, sound, vibration, or a combo) to expect, Cooksey recommends.
What to look for in alarms for people with hearing loss
It can be helpful to connect with your hearing specialist to ask what type of alarm they believe is best-suited for your particular type of hearing loss. “When considering alerting systems, it is important to remember every patient is unique,” Panelli says.
Here’s what else to keep in mind when it comes to fire alarms:
Note: This guidance is for households. People who own businesses like hotels must follow ADA laws.
CO detectors for people with hearing loss
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless gas produced from fossil-burning fuels used in furnaces, boilers, water heaters and fireplaces. Depending upon where you live, state or city laws may require you to have a working CO detector installed in your home. Even if they don't, it's a good idea to have one. Experts recommend installing a CO detector at least 15 feet from the entrance of each bedroom as well as one on every level of your home.
Much like smoke alarms for individuals with hearing loss, carbon monoxide detectors are available with strobe lights and vibrating devices. NFPA codes also apply to these devices, which means these appliances must emit a loud, low-frequency signal.
For more information, see the NFPA's page on fire safety and hearing loss and learn about other alerting devices that can keep you safe.