Are headphones bad for your child’s hearing?

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in the use of headphones. Kids are using them to listen to music, videos and online classes. However, when used incorrectly (too loudly and for extended periods), they can cause irreversible damage.

How headphones damage your hearing

By directing sound into your ears, headphones improve sound quality and allow us to listen in a “private” setting. More often than not, the device volume can be turned up to dangerous levels to block out distracting external sounds.

Headphones don’t have to be turned up to extreme levels to damage your hearing. Even using them at a moderate volume can cause damage over time because our ears are not just affected by the volume, but also by the length of exposure to the noise as well (in the same way that going to a concert or using loud power tools can damage your ears just as much as a much louder gunshot or explosion). The duration of the exposure matters just as much as the volume.

“To be safe, follow the 60/60 rule: listen at 60% of the device’s maximum volume for 60 minutes and then take a break.”

How can I prevent hearing loss due to the use of headphones?

  • Lower the volume: Make sure to keep the headphones at a reasonable volume. Check the volume of the headphones before your child uses them to make sure the volume is at an acceptable level. Remember that the “loudness” of your headphones is also based on the volume you’ve set your phone or computer, as well as the type and make of headphones you use.
  • Reduce external noise: It’s a smart move to wear headphones with good noise cancellation. By reducing the external noise, your child can listen to sound at a safer level and still hear it relatively loudly and clearly.
  • Wear over-the-ear headphones instead of earbuds: Over-the-ear headphones increase the distance between your eardrums and the speakers, lowering the chance of hearing loss.
  • Limit exposure: Just like other muscles, our ears become tired and need to rest, so have your child take listening breaks to protect their ears. It’s advisable to take a five-minute break every 30 minutes or a 10-minute break every hour. To be safe, follow the 60/60 rule: listen at 60% of the device’s maximum volume for 60 minutes and then take a break.

Do volume-limiting headphones work?

Volume-limiting headphones typically only go up to a volume of 85 dB (decibels) which is a safe level according to the World Health Organisation for eight hours a day. The louder the sound, the less time you should be exposed to it. The use of volume-limiting headphones is encouraged in children of all ages as it encourages listening at an acceptable volume and removes the risk of increasing volume to uncomfortable and dangerous listening levels.

Search your favourite online store for the perfect set for your child. For example:

Yellow fox CozyPhones Kids Headphones Volume Limited
CozyPhones Kids Headphones Volume Limited from takealot.com for R499.
Pink and white volume limiting kids buddyphones
Onanoff BuddyPhones Discover Volume-Limiting Headphones from wantitall.co.za for R875.

*Prices correct at time of publication.

If you have any concerns about your child’s hearing contact your nearest audiologist or get hold of Kelly Nathan Audiology on 011 656 4542 / 021 007 0007 or kelly@knaudiology.co.za. Visit www.knaudiology.co.za.

Kelly Nathan is a registered audiologist and currently owns and works at Kelly Nathan Audiology in Johannesburg. She is also an active member on various committees of the South African Association of Audiologists and provides clinical supervision and guidance to Audiology students at the University of the Witwatersrand. Kelly has an interest in hearing healthcare in children and adults, and believes in providing her clients with individualised service for all their hearing needs in a warm and caring environment.