In present world where things are more and more noisy, it becomes of utmost important that you try and protect your baby from permanent hearing damage. And one of the most popular solutions is using earmuffs for babies. But most important question asked again and again over internet is Are Headphones Safe for Babies? unfortunately there is very less information available and no-one has technically analysed and summarised available data.
In this post I have done it under the guidance of my dad, who has an experience of working in Research & Development, working on many NVH projects on vehicle inner noise for driver and passengers.
And believe me although the post is quite long with some technical information (made simple by my dad) I strongly recommend to takeout some time and read through till end. If needed take printout of the chart and paste it on the wall.
Are Headphones Safe for Babies?
Infant’s ear canals are delicate and particularly susceptible to damage due to loud noises. Even brief exposure to high dB noise levels can induce a permanent hearing loss. Hence wearing headphones for babies is UNSAFE & completely NO.
Although I have seen mothers writing on various forums about infants wearing headphones during long flights, I am sure they have created a long term trouble for their baby unknowingly!
So instead of using headphones you need to use something called as earmuffs, which acts as a noise isolator protecting the baby from loud noises.
Considering that normal conversation at home results into approximate noise level of 60dB, I can safely assume that noise level while using earmuffs (not headphones!) can be safely around 50dB (resultant after the NRR).
Hence if you are going to use any kind of earmuffs for babies, then you must be doubly sure about the NRR dB level from selected earmuffs. (I have explained NRR in details at the end of this post)
You need to understand that your baby’s hearing entirely depends upon the proper vibrations on the eardrum and the structures of the middle. Repeated impact of high noise levels can cause temporary or even permanent damage to the eardrums.
Temporary exposure to high sound levels, like going to a concert, where peak dB levels can easily attain 150dB sound pressure, which can bring temporary hearing loss to the baby. Such periodic hearing loss may lead to speech delays or even language problems, and in long term may affect her school performance later.
Sustained exposure to sounds greater than 85dB can damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear. Just for your easy understanding, 85dB noise level is one which can be generated by a vacuum cleaner or even a home hair dryer!
Also any loud noise can be very frightening for infants! Simply keep watching your baby’s face carefully for signs of any displeasure, and you will realise if the environmental noises are painful to your baby, she will show signs of pain or disturbance or discomfort.
Can I use earbuds for my baby?
No, absolutely No. You may use approved over ear muffs for your baby, but don’t ever user earbuds. They can cause ear infections as well as damage the hearing. As on date I am not aware of any certified earbuds for babies!
Also any movement of baby head and the earbuds can plunge inside and damage the ear canal shape.
Read more on Ear Infections in babies
Now let me tell you what can be considered as an excessive noise?
Technical definition of an excessive noise :
An exposure to 85 or more decibels of sound over a period of 8 hours.
And as per guidance from OSHA, hearing protection is required for all employees at an exposure of 85dB or more for over 8 hours. Now this guideline is for adults, why I am telling you this is to understand the severity of noise levels which we tend to really ignore.
[ Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) ]
Once you have understood excessive noise limits for adults, let me show you what in general is the noise level you encounter but do not realise its seriousness.
OSHA has considered these most common producers of noise levels as dangerous:
Lawnmowers, Rock concerts, Firearms, Firecrackers, Headset listening systems, Motorcycles, Tractors, Power tools and Industrial machinery. OSHA strongly recommends use of hearing protection during continued exposure to any of these noisy environments, as all of these mostly delivers sounds in excess of 90 decibels.
Now look at the information below and keep it in mind. Anytime you want to take your baby outside, you must look at this chart and decide to use proper hearing protection or drop the plan to visit such noisy places.
30 dB = Whisper, Quiet Library
40 dB = Quiet room
50 dB = Moderate Rainfall
60 dB = Conversation, Dishwasher [Note this level, I have already mentioned at beginning of my post]
70 dB = Vacuum Cleaner
80 dB = Alarm Clock, Busy Street
90 dB = Lawnmower, Shop Tools, Truck Traffic, Subway
100 dB = Snowmobile, Chain saw, Pneumatic Drill
110 dB = Machinery, Model Airplanes
120 dB = Jet Plane Take-off, Amplified Music at 4-6 ft., Car Stereo, Band Practice
130 dB = Jackhammer
140 dB = Firearms, Air-Raid Siren, Jet Engine
150 dB = Rock Concerts at Peak
OSHA’s Permissible Noise Exposure levels
|Duration per day, hours||Sound level dBA slow response|
Save Your Baby from Hearing loss
Remember your baby can’t speak, she can’t tell you what is wrong but can only express her anger or pain by crying or changing the facial expressions.
Its you who need to take care of your baby, making yourself aware of the fact that there are things that you are using in daily life at home, generating lot of loud noise and you must take care of not getting your baby nearby and if at all you have no choice, make her wear good hearing protection.
As an example, you are alone at home with your baby and want to carry our lawn mowing! Now that you know it would be somewhere around 90dB of noise and having your baby around for couple of hours around it is not recommended. So either avoid it or use some sort of hearing protection for the baby.
How to select hearing protection for baby?
There are two ways by which you can achieve the hearing protection for your baby.
First is to use a good quality earmuffs. Remember that any hearing protectors must be tested and approved by the American National Standards (ANSI)
And second, avoid going to noisy places like Rock concerts.
Meeting the safety standards:
The earmuffs you select must effectively attenuate harmful loud noises without shutting out other ambient sounds. As the infants are sensitive to hearing it is necessary that ear muffs should be Safety Tested for newborns 0-3 months.
[ Make sure that they meet multiple global safety standards including: ANSI S3.19 (United States) & EN352-1: 1993 (Europe) ]
It is highly difficult that a baby can tell you the comfort level! So it entirely depends upon your own judgement on comfort. Best way is to do basic checks like softness of cushion, tension created by the head band, inner cushioning to the head band.
Check & take judgement of headband tension when expanded to the size of your babies head. You can simply feel it by expanding it with your hands. Only if you feel comfortable, use it for your baby. Remember the infant’s head is soft and more tension from headband can be strenuous to her. Once you put the earmuff on baby’s head observe carefully if she expresses some pain or anger.
Make sure that the earmuffs have no protruding parts. Although the manufacturer has taken extreme care of the quality, Murphy’s law can work and only the earmuffs you buy can have some defects. So after buying the earmuffs, inspect it carefully for any defects, sharp wires, plastic flashes etc.
The headband should be wide, have low tension, stuffed with comfy leather and most importantly it should be adjustable to baby’s head.
The cushion cups should be large enough so that they cover the complete ears. This ensures that the ear lobes shall not get compressed. Also large cups protect ears from cold environment (duel use – noise plus cold protection). The cups should be made from high quality PU foam or equivalent soft material, preferable certified so that it should not create any irritation to the tender & delicate skin of the infant.
Hot or Cold environment: When to wear?
If the environment is hot, avoid using earmuffs for babies, since sweat formation may cause skin irritation and infection specially for infants.
For cold environment it is welcome to use them since they will protect the ears from cold.
Finally they should be extremely light weight. If the earmuff manufacturer has used high quality light weight materials during manufacturing then it is quite possible that you get infant earmuffs for as low as around 150 grams (0.33 pounds or 5.3 ounce). I mean lesser the better but max limit should be 150 grams.
Some technical stuff for SNR & NRR figures mentioned on earmuffs
Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) compares the level of the Wi-FI signal to the level of background noise. For me this will not matter much for selection but the second one that is NRR will matter for the earmuff selection.
How does NRR change decibels of exposure to the baby?
When you look at the earmuff, you will see a NRR rating which means Noise Reduction Rating.
Now let me tell you what is this rating and how it will impact selection of earmuffs.
When you wear any hearing protection, your level of exposure to noise is based on the NRR rating.
However while the NRR number shows dB levels of protection the earmuff can provide, using it does not means it will reduce the surrounding decibel level by the exact number of decibels associated with that earmuffs NRR!
Lets take an example for explanation:
One of the highest sold baby earmuff in market has NRR 33dB.
You took your baby for a rock concert where the noise levels are say 100 dB.
Now if you are using earmuffs with NRR 33 dB, your baby’s level of sound exposure will not be simple maths which is 100 – 33 = 67 dB. NO.
Here the simple maths does not work, to determine actual sound levels that the baby will experience, you need to apply decibel deduction (when decibels are measured dBA which is the most common).
So now you have to take the NRR number (in dB), subtract seven, and then divide by two.
Means, for NRR 33dB, the noise reduction equation becomes as (33-7)/2 = 13.
What it means to your baby in Rock concert is after using a hearing protection of NRR 33 dB, at a Rock concert emitting sound level of 100 dB, your baby will experience sound pressure level of 100 – 13 = 87 dB! Which means as per OSHA you are still at very loud level, this is not at all acceptable for the babies hearing health.
So you can not take your baby to the Rock concert with NRR 33 dB level device (now NRR 33 is something in Good range for any device)
Just to show you one more calculation, if your baby is wearing a hearing protection with an NRR of 27 dB, it would finally deduct 10 decibels (27-7/2=10) only.
Further to get this best number, you should make sure that the baby is wearing the hearing protectors properly covering the ears fully.
Best way is to test the earmuffs, you may not be able to wear them fully (you will damage them), but keep it over one ear and take a judgement call on how much noise reduction you feel. I am telling you this since I have seen numerous photographs of infants wearing earmuffs at a rock concerts. TOO BAD!!! You should not do this at all.
How long you can use them for the baby?
I strongly suggest providing breaks! what it means is not wearing them for more than an hour at a time.
Under unavoidable circumstances like you are travelling in an air plane, you should restrict the time. Before air travel also I suggest to make your baby habitual to wearing it for sometime. Do not experiment or use first time for the baby on air travel, that too for longer time. Its completely No-Go.
Do you like my post? From the desk of Olivia
Well this is my first blog post on my own website dedicated to babies. As I conceived my first baby, I started facing questions and issues. As my dad was there to guide me I decided to form this special website guiding you all. Please put in your comments below and let me know if I should keep writing this blog or not?
Olivia (Mother of a newborn)
References for writing this post are taken from the following websites:
Noise Reduction Ratings Explained (NRR explained) – https://www.coopersafety.com/earplugs-noise-reduction
What is the Signal-to-Noise Ratio and why is it important? – https://www.netspotapp.com/help/what-is-the-signal-to-noise
How Safe are Earbuds and Headphones for Your Child? – https://www.parentalguide.org/how-safe-are-earbuds-and-headphones-for-your-child-the-101-on-ear-bud-and-headphone-usage/
“Listen To Your Buds” Urges Consumer Electronics Show Attendees to Adopt Safe Listening Habits to Prevent Childhood Hearing Loss – https://www.asha.org/About/news/Press-Releases/2014/Listen-To-Your-Buds-Campaign-at-2014-CES/
Is it OK to bring my baby to a loud concert? – https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/is-it-ok-to-bring-my-baby-to-a-loud-concert/article4665564/