Video: Are headphones harming children's hearing?

Video transcript

We often think of hearing loss as an adult issue - as we age, the frequencies of sound we can hear start to reduce, compounded by ongoing environmental exposure to noise - loud concerts, construction work, noise you encounter at your job. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that hearing problems are also something we have to watch out for in children. That’s especially the case as kids spend more and more time with headphones on. Take a look around your bus or train the next time you travel to see this in action.

This study sought to find out how prevalent hearing loss was among young children, and to see whether it was linked to the use of portable music players (like an iPod or mobile phone playing music through headphones). The researchers looked at more than 3000 children in the Netherlands over a three-year period. Each child underwent an audiometry test, where they looked at what frequencies of sound they could hear, and related examinations. They also asked subjective questions of each child’s parents, like whether the child ever said they were experiencing hearing problems, or whether they showed sensitivity to loud noises. They also asked about the personal music player use of each child.

The study found that almost 15 per cent of the children assessed displayed high-frequency hearing loss and this seemed to be associated with their use of a personal music player (though that association wasn’t fully clear). It also wasn’t clear whether the high-frequency hearing loss was permanent, though the researchers fear that it may be.

Implications

What we really need is more studies - and follow up - to ascertain the true relationship between headphones and hearing loss in children. What is clear is that having the volume too loud can damage anyone’s hearing, so keeping it below a certain threshold is always a wise idea. It’s also important to be on the lookout for general signs of poor hearing or hearing loss in children. Better Health Victoria says they might experience a sudden dip in their marks, talk more loudly than usual, need things like the TV or music at a higher volume, or complain of a ringing or buzzing noise in their ears.

References

le Clercq, et al. (2018). Association Between Portable Music Player Use and Hearing Loss Among Children of School Age in the Netherlands. JAMA Otolaryngology doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2018.0646.