'Tis the Season to Protect Your Hearing

Popular Holiday Gifts, Events, and Gatherings Can Expose People of All Ages to Damaging Noise Levels; ASHA Offers Easy, Effective Ways to Prevent Lasting Damage

December 13, 2022

(Rockville, MD) The year-end season of cheer is also a time for excessive noise—from loud holiday gatherings to toys and technology gifts that can reach potentially dangerous sound levels.

To help the public protect themselves and their loved ones, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is sharing some common holiday hearing hazards—and simple guidance that can minimize the risk of permanent ear damage.

Hearing loss due to noise exposure (called noise-induced hearing loss) is completely preventable. However, once it occurs, it’s irreversible. Just last month, a new study [PDF] in the journal BMJ Global Health reported that unsafe listening practices from use of personal listening devices and attendance at loud entertainment venues are common among people ages 12–34 years—and that up to 1.35 billion young people worldwide are at risk for hearing loss worldwide.

Below are three common sources of excessively loud noise, along with tips for hearing protection.

Noisy Toys

Sirens on toy vehicles, kiddie musical instruments, talking or singing dolls, and play phones, remotes, and laptops are just some of the electronic toys that can exceed a safe sound level of 75 decibels. This is especially problematic for children, who often hold toys close to their heads. Some young children may not yet have the physical ability to move a toy on their own or know that it is too loud, so parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers must be extra vigilant.

Here are some hearing protection steps that people can take:

  • Consider “old fashioned” toys. Young children really don’t need electronic toys. Blocks, puppets, chunky puzzles, and board books are just some items that let children build their imagination as well as protect their hearing. Parents will save themselves the hassle and expense of changing batteries too!
  • Give toys a listen first. Before giving an electronic toy to a child, caregivers should pay close attention to the volume. Does it sound too loud? Consider a return or exchange before a child gets too attached. Better yet, if shopping in a store, listen before
  • Place tape over the speaker. This is a surprisingly effective way to dampen the sound of toys that are too loud. Simple masking tape is sufficient.

Noisy Technology

Earbuds and headphones, smartphones, and other electronic gifts all can reach dangerously high sound levels. It’s important for parents and caregivers to monitor the volume for all kids, from young children to teenagers, as well as to encourage and enforce regular listening breaks (aim for hourly). In addition, here are some features to look for when purchasing products:

  • Noise-canceling capabilities. Noise-canceling earbuds and headphones can help drown out external noise, which reduces the need for kids and adults to crank the volume.
  • Proper fit. A well-fitting set of earbuds and headphones can help prevent sound leakage, which can make volume increases unnecessary. Look for age-appropriate options.
  • Volume-limiting products. Headphones and other electronics with volume limiters may provide some protection by capping the maximum sound output. However, some products still exceed a safe listening volume of 75 decibels. Shoppers should check the product description for maximum volume, check product review sites, and listen themselves.

Noisy Gatherings

Holiday parties, concerts and shows . . .  all of these events can and do often exceed safe noise levels. Below are some easy ways for people to safeguard their hearing while still enjoying themselves:

  • Use hearing protection. Basic earplugs offer good protection for most teens and adults. People may want to keep a few pairs in their purse or car. These are sold in most drugstores and online. Children should wear well-fitting earmuffs instead of earplugs.
  • Keep a safe distance. Stand at least 500 feet away from noise sources, such as a speaker or a stage. People who play an instrument or attend concerts or other loud events regularly should consider purchasing a set of musician’s earplugs. They can also order a set of custom earplugs from an audiologist.
  • Download a sound-level meter app. There are many free apps that can measure noise, and some smartwatches and phones have this capability integrated to automatically alert people when they are in a loud space.
  • Choose location and timing wisely. When eating in a restaurant or when organizing a party or a gathering in a public space, consider going at times that are less crowded—or, if you have flexibility, choosing a location that’s typically quieter.
  • Know your limits. If someone is experiencing ringing in their ears or any other ear discomfort, they should listen to their body and leave the noisy situation.

In general, ASHA recommends that parents and caregivers talk to their children about why hearing protection is important—to help them understand the value of their hearing. Everyone should also learn the signs of hearing loss and seek out a hearing evaluation from a certified audiologist if they ever have concerns about their hearing or pain/ringing in their ears. Find a professional, and learn more, at www.asha.org/public.

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 223,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) identify, assess, and treat speech, language, and swallowing disorders.

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