‘The warning sign is tinnitus’: What parents need to know about headphones and hearing loss in children

“We have had a mad influx this year of kids with tinnitus,” or ringing in ears, said Lisa Vaughan of Cook Children’s. She said headphones are to blame.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Headphones have become a constant in our kids’ lives; the pandemic and virtual learning has made them even more so.

The problem, said Lisa Vaughan, audiology program manager for Cook Children’s Medical Center, is that our homes and lives are noisy, and our kids keep hiking up the volume to compensate.

“That’s what we worry about,” Vaughan said. “We worry about these kids turning things up to the maximum amount of volume because of all the other things in the household.”

Vaughan, who’s recently been quoted in the New York Times and Parents Magazine, said the damage from listening to loud music or talking with headphones is already clear. 

“Generally, the warning sign is tinnitus, or ringing in your ears, and we have had a mad influx this year of kids with tinnitus,” Vaughan said. 

She pointed out children’s ears are smaller than adult’s ears, yet take in the same amount of sound, making them more vulnerable to hearing damage.

Before it gets worse, she has some tips for parents. 

Keep home noise at a minimum

 That way your kids won’t have to use headphones in the first place.

“You can not do dishes, not do laundry, not vacuum your floors,” she said. “Save those things for the evenings.”

Use ear protection

If your children can’t avoid noisy situations, including hunting or loud music, they should use ear protection. Vaughan says ear plus go a long way.   

Invest in safer listening devices

There are listening devices that are safer for your kids’ ears, Vaughan said. 

“They have volume limiting headphones for children you can purchase,” she said.

Be honest with your children

Having honest conversations with children about their hearing and how it can’t be replaced is important.

“There’s not a magic surgery, there’s not a magic pill. When it’s gone, it’s gone,” Vaughan said of hearing.

Treat headphone time like screen time

Vaughan said to make sure limit the time your kids use headphones, and if you’re on a long road trip or doing virtual school, make sure to have them take breaks.

“Chances are if you’re worried about screen time, you should be worried about the hearing associated with the screen time,” she said.

Do hearing checks

Vaughan said not to be shy; put your child’s headphones on and see how loud it is. 

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