Hearing Protection for Babies, Children, and Adults

The latest science shows noise hurts healthy brain development and hearing health in children under 12. Risk is unclear for older teens. Once brain is fully matured–like for adults–then the concern is mainly noise-induced hearing health deficits. People often wonder about the best type of hearing protection for babies, children, and adults.

There are many options to choose from at retail stores and online. But most people don’t know age makes a difference for noise exposure risk. who could wear hearing protection, and what type is right for different ages. The risk of noise hurting brain development for cognition, hearing, speech, and language is greatest for children under 6. Again, zero noise policy. If unavoidable–e.g. you’re in the finals Ru Paul’s Drag Race and want little one there, then make sure you pick a safe style that fits well.

There’s an old saying: Hey kids, don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ears. So children under 12 shouldn’t use earplugs except types individually prescribed and fit by audiologists or hearing healthcare professionals.

Hearing Protection Style by Age

Less than 3 months old

  • Avoid taking infant into noisy environments.
  • Noise hurts normal brain development for cognition, speech, and language development.
  • Safety concern: 2 soft spots (fontanelles) on baby’s skull hasn’t hardened yet. Hearing protection including earmuffs not recommended.
  • If noise is unavoidable, see a hearing healthcare professional about recommended earmuffs for your baby.
  • Must seal completely around the ears (no chunks of hair or glasses in the way) and not too big or heavy for baby’s head. Under the chin or behind the neck style earmuffs preferred.
  • If you stretch out the band before putting on baby, you wreck the protection. Throw in garbage and try again.

3 months to 3 years old

  • Avoid taking infant or child into noisy environments.
  • Noise hurts normal brain development for cognition, speech, and language development.
  • Safety concern: 1 soft spot (fontanelle) on baby’s skull still hardening. Hearing protection including earmuffs not recommended.
  • If noise is unavoidable, see a hearing healthcare professional about recommended earmuffs for your little one.
  • Must seal completely around the ears (no chunks of hair or glasses in the way) and not too big or heavy for little one’s head. Under the chin or behind the neck style earmuffs preferred.
  • If you stretch out the band before putting on little one, you wreck the protection. Throw in garbage and try again.

Age 3-12

  • Avoid taking child into noisy environments.
  • Noise hurts normal brain development for cognition, speech, and language development.
  • If noise is unavoidable, see a hearing healthcare professional about fitting recommended hearing protection for your child.

Age 12 – Teens

  • See a hearing healthcare professional about fitting recommended hearing protection for child or teen.
  • Custom molded earplugs with switch to flip between solid (cuts most sound) and filtered (best for listening to music, going to movies, or talking while in noisy places)
  • Additional hearing protection as needed for specific needs, e.g. firearms
  • If not custom molded, earplugs must fit snugly comfortably and completely seal off ear canal entrances.
  • If not custom molded, earmuffs must seal snugly comfortable around outer ears. No braids or chunks of hair or glasses in the way.
  • Safety supply stores have special pads for glasses to fit so earmuffs still seal.

Adults

  • See a hearing healthcare professional about fitting recommended hearing protection, including custom molded 2-way earplugs (solid-filtered).
  • Some clinics and all safety supply stores sell other hearing protection styles including pre-molded filtered earplugs, canal caps, amplified earmuffs, safer personal listening earplugs/earmuffs, sports earmuffs, filtered earmuffs, hunting earmuffs, etc.
  • The best fit is usually custom molded earplugs with switch to flip between solid (cuts most sound) and filtered (best for listening to music or talking while in noisy places)
  • If not custom molded earplugs, earplugs must fit snugly comfortably and completely seal off ear canal entrances.
  • If not custom molded earplugs, earmuffs must seal snugly comfortable around outer ears. No braids or chunks of hair or glasses in the way.
  • Safety supply stores have special pads for glasses to fit so earmuffs still seal. They also carry other accessories including replacement pads for earmuffs (replace annually)

Sealed Fit

For all ages, fit of earmuffs or earplugs is the most important consideration. Noise travels in sounds waves like water. Earmuffs must seal completely around the ears, and earplugs must be inserted properly so they completely block the ear canals. Never stretch out the band of earmuffs to loosen them up. This breaks the band tension so the earmuff doesn’t seal properly. This means sound waves can slip past and hurt hearing health.

Hearing protection must fit like swim goggles.

Jan L. Mayes (2019)
Image by Pete Wright on Unsplash.

Built In Emergency Fingerplugs

Sometimes people are out and about with no hearing protection handy. If you can, use your index fingers to plug your ears. This protects hearing similar to earplugs. It’s handy for on and off, short term unexpected loud noise, e.g. flyovers at airshow, loud sound at school or in public, etc.

Never teach children to clap their hands over their ears if sound is too loud. Always teach children to use their fingerplugs.

Wrong:
Won’t protect hearing

Right
Helps protect hearing

Modern Hearing Protection

For more information on modern hearing protection, read my blog High Fidelity Ear Protection. Examples include products that let you hear, enjoy music, or talk as needed even for noisy environments like concerts, sports events, hunting, etc. Noise damages our built-in high fidelity stereo hearing systems. Making them work like low fidelity stereo systems with uncomfortable noise and static (hyperacusis, tinnitus) and distortion (impaired speech in noise performance, hearing loss). This is completely preventable by using properly fit hearing protection for babies, children and adults. Protect everyone’s right to healthy hearing and communication.

Featured Image: Michelle Mosier on Pixabay.
Image child hands covering ears by Ulrike Mai on Pixabay.
Image adult fingers plugging ears from Pixabay.

Jan L. Mayes

“Never give up. Never surrender.”

Author, audiologist, educator, quiet activist, playing with words.

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