Add Earplugs To Your Back To School Shopping List

It’s that time of year again – summer’s heat recedes followed by the crisp air of Fall and the start of a new school year. My kids always complain, but secretly I think they are happy to return to the familiar routine and friendly faces of friends and teachers.

For most people back to school shopping includes notebooks, pens, pencils and maybe a new backpack. For others it might include a warm jacket or new boots. For my family, it includes earplugs so my children can protect themselves from noise-induced hearing loss.

Schools are increasingly loud places, with lunchrooms and shared communal spaces reaching up to 85 decibels or more at certain times of the day. This can be dangerous since prolonged exposure to sound at 85 decibels or higher can lead to hearing loss.

After school activities can be even louder. Children’s birthday parties are generally held at venues like bowling alleys or arcades that play loud music, while movies are often screened at 90 decibels or higher.

All this exposure to unsafe sound can take its toll on young ears. In fact, a 2010 research study indicated 1 in 5 teenagers have some form of hearing loss. These numbers are likely higher today given the ubiquitous use of ear buds among children and young adults.

Tips For Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

The extent of hearing damage from noise is dependent on three things – how loud the sound is, how close you are to the sound, and how long you are exposed to the sound. Each of these is controllable to some extent, putting you in charge of your hearing health. Following these tips will help prevent hearing loss.

  1. Turn down your music. Prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss. At 105 decibels, the maximum volume of an iPod, some hearing loss can occur within 15 minutes. At 110 decibels, the level of a rock concert or loud sporting event, damage can occur after one minute. If someone can hear your music outside your ear buds, the sound is too loud.
  2. Limit your listening time. Doctors recommend the 60/60 rule – listen to music on your MP3 player at 60% of the maximum volume and for only 60 minutes per day. Noise-canceling headphones can help, since they eliminate unneeded background noise, letting you enjoy your music at lower volumes.
  3. Swap your ear buds for headphones. Earbuds are worn within the ear, putting the sound very close to the sensitive workings of your inner ear. Headphones can provide a little distance between the music and your ears. Many noise-cancelling versions are available.
  4. Wear hearing protection. Carry earplugs with you and use them whenever things get loud. This includes concerts, sporting events or other school activities. Earplugs can be easily carried in a backpack or purse. Make sure to bring extras to share with friends.
  5. Move away from loud sounds. The farther you are from noise, the safer it is. Choose seats far away from speakers and if you encounter loud noise unexpectedly, move away from it as quickly as you can. If you don’t have ear protection, block the sound with your hands while moving to a quieter spot.
  6. Use a decibel reader app. Decibel reader apps for your phone are an easy way to measure how loud a sound is so you know when to move away. While most are not 100% accurate, they will give you a general sense if you are close to or within the danger zone. The CDC recently introduced one. Find it here.

For more information on preventing noise-induced hearing loss in children visit It’s A Noisy Planet, a program of the National Institutes of Health, or my blog, Living With Hearing Loss.