Protecting teenage ears from noise

Posted on: September 5, 2011

Last time I wrote about protecting young ears from noise. Today I’m going to look at older children and teenagers.

If anyone regularly takes part in noisy leisure activities I would recommended that they use hearing protection. Excessive exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss. Teenagers won’t fully appreciate the effects of noise on the ears as permanent damage takes time to show up and often not until well into adulthood. However, one of the early signs of possible damage to the ears from noise is tinnitus – or a ringing in the ears. Most teenagers will have experienced this following a gig or night out at a club for example. Excessive noise exposure is based both on the level of sound (in decibels) as well as the length of time you are exposed to it. So it is possible that longer, lower exposure can do as much damage as shorter, high level exposure. Noise does not have to be uncomfortably loud or painful in order to damage the ears. As a very general and crude rule of thumb, if you need to raise your voice over the noise to have a normal conversation then the noise level could potentially harm the hearing and participants should consider using ear protection for that activity.

Common leisure activites that can result in excessive noise exposure include:

  • headphone/earphone use with MP3 players, iPods, computers, games consoles
  • in-car stereo systems
  • night-clubs
  • gigs
  • go-karting and motorsport
  • motorcycles
  • shooting
  • playing musical instruments/bands

Some MP3 players and iPods come with noise-limiting software that prevents the volume being increased above safe levels. If the player doesn’t come with this software it can sometimes be downloaded after purchase. Try to ensure teenagers take regular breaks from using headphones and encourage them to set the volume of the player in quiet surroundings and avoid turning it up in background noise which can increase the total noise level above safe levels. Good quality noise cancelling headphones are available on the market that help to reduce the effects of background noise and therefore enable the volume to be kept lower. If teenagers are hearing aid wearers it is possible to use special adapters that link the player to the hearing aids directly so that they benefit from the personal amplification programming of the hearing aids. For further information about how this is done contact the NDCS Technology Team for further advice.

Advice to teenagers and adults who regularly attend night-clubs is to avoid dancing directly in front of a speaker and to take regular breaks from the dance floor to a quiet area (perhaps 15-20 minutes every hour). Foam ear plugs, available from most high street chemists are also available. Further information written for teenagers about protection form club noise is available from the ‘don’t lose the music’ campaign or follow @safedecks on Twitter.

For teenagers who are starting to play in bands it’s worth knowing that more and more professional musicians are now using specialist hearing protection. Basic earplugs (such as the yellow foam ones from chemists) do reduce the overall volume of noise but tend to be very poor for listening to music since they reduce different frequencies (pitch) by different amounts and therefore distort it. Several manufacturers now make specialist earplugs for musicians. There is a range of earplugs in different styles and attenuation (degree of noise reduction). The cheaper versions are ‘one size fits all’ and usually have less attenuation. Alternatively you could pay more for ‘custom fit’ which are made to fit each person individually and are a popular choice with people who would wear them for longer periods of time such as professional musicians. Custom fit ear plugs are made from an impression taken of the ear. Your local NHS audiology department may be able to do this for you. Alternatively, you could ask a high street hearing aid audiologist for an appointment. (See your local phone book under ‘hearing aid dispenser’ or ‘hearing aid audiologist’). For examples and further information try or

Some useful websites and articles:

House Research Institute’s Earbud for teenagers and teachers Blog Save your kid’s hearing with these headphones

The ASHA Leader Youth Hearing at Risk Tools for Fun and Learning

The ASHA Leader  Teens at Risk: Audiologists Respond

Hearing Loss Web Music and Hearing Loss

British Tinnitus Association Information for musicians

Control of noise in the context of teachers of music – practical advice and guidance for schools

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