How Sensitive Are Babies Ears? What’s Really LOUD

By Beta Dad | Last Updated: October 2nd, 2017

In this article, we will cover some important questions that come up time and again regarding hearing protection for your baby.

Crank up those tunes, pour a drink and read on   (… I was joking about the tunes just FYI 😉 )

How loud is too loud for your baby?

It’s a known fact that babies have a more sensitive sense of sound than adults.

A common practice of sensible judgement is that if you as the parent can talk easily over the sound, music or noise pollution comfortably, then the sound level should be OK for your infant.

Dangerous Noise Levels for InfantsAll babies are initially tested from birth for hearing problems which are tested again and monitored by the doctors/GP when they are still young, so in most cases, there should be basic plans in place to monitor progress.

But in this article, we will focus on how to keep sounds & noise to an acceptable volume around a healthy baby, so it comes to no short or long term harm.

At first glance, it’s going to be very apparent that the baby’s response to sound is going to depend on its temperament. Some babies react more intensively to sound when compared to their calmer counterparts; this I’m afraid is just par for the course.

It’s also important to factor in what kind of sounds the pregnant mother was exposed to whilst the baby was in the womb (.. see here for our guide on  pregnancy pillow benefits for expectant mums).

The sounds which she picks up subconsciously while in its period of gestation, are more or less going to be known to her after birth and she will react less intensively to them to the point of being able to sleep well around these types of sounds.can babies go deaf from loud noises

On the other hand, entirely new sounds may cause the infant to cry or even induce a heavy blinking form of agitation.

A clear example is when people watch sports on TV and turn the volume up so they can hear and cheer.

This type of high-intensity volume can be too much for the baby –  PAY ATTENTION sports fans!

Even moderately intensive noises can cause stress to the baby and to its ears. Sounds with volume over 90 decibels are dangerous for adults, let alone children.

Children’s ear canals are small and susceptible to loud noises, understand that.

Even short-term exposure to extreme volumes can cause permanent hearing damage.

Sustained exposure to sounds higher than 85 decibels is known to cause damage to the baby’s extremely sensitive hair cells in the inner ear.

As such even simple one off loud noises can be frightening to infants, causing them stress which can have prolonged effects after the initial startle.

You’ll need to test if your child hears clearly when awake. Babies require a lot of sleep ( sleeping schedules are on their terms, but did I need to tell you that ? meh) and can sleep through telephone ringing, mild volume television noise, and dogs barking.

To get a clear notion of your baby’s hearing, it’s best to do it when it’s awake and alert as deep sleep testing just isn’t appropriate.

Some basic things you can do to test your child’s hearing is to clap your hands behind its head, talk to it to point towards familiar objects or try to get it to respond to familiar sounds.

If she fails at all on any of these tests, not to alarm you but u would seek immediate medical attention.  Take no chances with their health when they are so young.

Here is an excellent resource for newborn hearing screening (UNHS).

An interesting report from discovery relating to white noise machines, they may be hurting your child!

Can loud noises cause brain damage?

loud music volume on headphones have the same effect on the nervous system like multiple sclerosis and can cause hearing damage and in some cases total hearing loss.

Can loud noises cause brain damageAny headphone noise louder than 110 decibels has an effect of stripping the insulation tissue from the nerve fibers responsible for carrying signals from the hearing system to the brain.

The loss of this protective coating (called myelin) disrupts the electrical nerve signalling pattern.

The exact same process, albeit this time due to attack from the immune system to the insulation tissue of the nerves damages them, specifically those located in the brain and leads to multiple sclerosis.

It’s been known for a long time that intensive noises can cause temporary hearing loss (known as ringing in the ears, or tinnitus) and even permanent hearing loss.

It’s for the first time that neurologists have been able to identify the exact cause of damage to the nerve cells and how that process results in negative consequences regarding the hearing mechanism of the human body.

Prolonged exposure to loud noises (above the safety decibel level of noise) can also alter the brain’s capacity to process speech, effectively making distinguishing speech sounds a more difficult task.

Neuroscientists have also concluded that intensive noise can cause permanent damage to the hair cells which also act as sound receivers in the ear. They do not grow back or regenerate, so once damaged, noise-induced hearing loss is imminent.

So please ensure you’re not exposing your infant to loud music via headphones, this concentrated volume can and will cause issues.

There are of course specific models of headphones with volume restrictions etc that you can use with your child.

More on that later.

How loud is too loud for a baby in the womb?

When pregnant, the exposure of noises above the safe decibel level increases the risk of hearing problems (and other health issues) not only for you but for the unborn baby as well.

when can baby hear inside wombBy the 24th week of gestation, the unborn baby’s outer, inner and middle ear are all fairly well developed.

By this point, the cochlea is fully formed, and as such, the baby’s ear can transmit sounds to the brain for processing.

It’s estimated that somewhere between the 27th and 30th week of gestation, the fetus begins to respond to sounds coming outside of the womb.

It needs to be taken into consideration that sounds that might seem too loud for you are mostly muffled in the womb.

The walls of the uterus, coated with fat and muscle tissue in the abdominal captivity have a dampening function, so the sound waves reach the baby’s ear with much lower intensity.

The amniotic fluids which fill the inner ear prevent the eardrum from amplifying sounds and also dampen high-pitched sounds. However, the same amniotic fluids actually amplify the low-pitched sounds slightly.

exposure over prolonged periods of time to around 90 to 100 decibels and above (around the level of a chainsaw) significantly increases the chance of risk of your baby’s hearing.

It can also lead to premature birth or the baby having lower than normal weight when born.   So stop the partying, you have more important things to consider…

Shorter exposure to sounds in the range of 150 to 155 decibels (the sound of a jet engine) has the same effect.

While inside the womb, the nature of the baby is very delicate, so be considerate.

Taking into consideration everything I just said, it needs to be noted that a pregnant woman shouldn’t forego noise to the extreme (to a degree where she doesn’t even turn on the TV or the radio anymore).

I’m not trying to scaremonger, just make you think and be considerate towards the little life you’re bringing into the world.

(And on that subject of bringing babies into the world, quick side-note.  Have a look at our maclaren triumph stroller reviews for a no nonsense guide on picking the right buggy to ensure their safety and comfort ).

It’s important that you simply keep noises in the safe range, which are mentioned in numerical value up above.

Simply put, while pregnant just don’t go to a heavy metal concert or don’t stand next to a chainsaw/lawnmower, or on the airport runway listening to jet engines and you should be just fine.

Are there noises loud enough to kill you?

How soon can infants be around loud noise?

It would seem that when your baby is crying in the middle of the night in the midst of what was blissful silence, then noise won’t be a problem for them, but sadly that’s not the case.

Infant hearing systems are very vulnerable.

For adults, the safe volume of noise exposure should be around 90 decibels. To get a clearer picture of how much that is, if you’re listening to music and you can maintain a conversation with another person while not having to raise the volume of your voice too much, it’s around the acceptable level.

How soon can infants be around loud noiseHowever, infant hearing system is much more delicate and especially vulnerable to high pitched sounds.

Damage can occur if the volume is too intensive for even a short period of time, albeit lower amounts of volume are acceptable for a prolonged period of time if that period is not too lengthy.

When you’re bringing your child to a public event where there will be a lot of talking, noise or even music, the period in which the child is going to be exposed to the sounds, as well as how close it is to any speakers, for example, are things you must consider.

Always have a think about that when you enter public places, it may be OK and comfortable for you BUT not your little one, and mindful they can’t tell you it’s too loud.

There is no definitive method or even a number to decide at what age your child should be exposed to noise, but if you’ve taken into consideration the previously provided information, these following guidelines will let you know if your child’s hearing is doing ok:

Are your kids hearing OK?  Tests you can try

 

  • If the infant is younger than three months, clapping your hands behind her hand should provoke a reaction in it. If it does so, you’ve kept your baby safe so far.
  • If the infant is between three and six months old, she should be reacting to interesting or familiar sounds like her name or its favorite toy. If when called out it responds to its name, a correct assumption would be that your child’s hearing system is doing fine.
  • If the infant is between six and ten months old, she should respond to her name on a regular basis as well as sounds like your voice and the ringing of the phone.
  • if the infant is between ten and fifteen months old, it should be able to respond to the names of objects such as the TV, a picture in a book or the squeaking of her favorite toy.

If all of these parameters are fulfilled, you have provided appropriate caretaking. Now go grab a drink and crank up that AC/DC   …kidding!

 

How many decibels is too loud for a newborn baby?

Infants are highly susceptible to noise induced hearing damage from loud or high pitched noises as their skulls are much thinner compared to those of adults.

Prolonged or sudden exposure to loud or high-pitched noises can damage parts of the inner ear, which is the area responsible for How many decibels is too loud for a newborn babyhearing (such as the outer hair cell, inner hair cells, and nerves in the inner ear).

Damaging either of these segments can lead to hearing loss.

Safe levels of noise vary according to the duration and the intensity of the exposure. As an example, using a very loud hair dryer near your child can cause hearing damage to your infant.

Infants can’t tell when and what’s too loud, so it’s up to you to take steps to protect it from hearing damage.

Generally, any noise equivalent or less than 80 decibels should not cause problems.

To understand 80 decibels is the equivalent of the noise in a restaurant or city traffic (if not too heavy or too close exposure to slow traffic with a lot of horns beeping). A normal conversation is around 60 decibels.

It’s worth mentioning that some children’s toys can be really loud too, even though they are intended for them.

While the 80 decibel level of noise is acceptable when it comes from a distance, your child may hold the toy too close to his hearing system.

Some toys can cause an intensity of noise as much as 120 decibels which is the equivalent of a jet plane taking off.

It would be advisable to check the volume of the toy by intuition before making a purchase in order to decide if it’s safe to be around your child.

The same can be said for iPads & Tablet devices, be careful of their volume and how close they are to your child.  You don’t want eyesight issues thrown in with hearing difficulties. 

Why your newborn doesn’t startle at loud noises?

An infant’s ability to hear is correlated with its ability to learn. A hearing screening is the most efficient and easiest way to tell if the baby has hearing problems in the early stages of his life.  This should already be part of their early life care plan, if not then please get this arranged with your midwife, Doctor or GP.

Some babies don’t startle at loud noises period, so don’t worry that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem.

Why your newborn doesn't startle at loud noisesSome people associate that not startling means that the baby is feeling calm and secure, or just has a low temperament.

On its own merit, this can be a good sign and often and indication that they will become a very calm sleeper.

Lucky you!

However, there are precautions to take if you see any of the following warning signals, and if they persist or are present at all times, it would be advisable to request medical advice.

Warning signs to look out for

  • newborns to 3 months old
    • doesn’t startle in response to sudden loud sounds
    • doesn’t respond to sounds, voices or music
    • doesn’t get soothed by soft, calming sounds
    • doesn’t make vowel sounds like “ahh” or “Ooh”
    • doesn’t register that a conversation is going on in the room and it persists with its noisy activities, such as playing with his squeaking toy
  • a little above 3 to 8 months old
    • doesn’t wiggle her head toward a sound he/she can’t see
    • doesn’t enjoy shaking a rattle or playing with squeaking toys
    • doesn’t try to imitate sounds
    • hasn’t started to babble vocal expressions to herself or when others talk to him/her
    • doesn’t respond to vocal tone changes, such as a strict “NO”
    • seems to pay attention to vibrating noises only
  • around 9 to 12 months
    • doesn’t respond to his or her name
    • doesn’t vary his or her pitch while babbling
    • doesn’t make different consonant sounds when babbling
    • at the 12-month mark, doesn’t understand words for different common items (toy, TV, shoe) or hasn’t spoken a single word

If more than two-thirds of these signals are persistent on a constant basis, the appropriate medical advice is suggested.

Go get the appropriate tests done to rule out any health concerns

Here’s a short video on what parents should know about hearing loss in children.

Infant hearing protection options

So far, we’ve covered the dangers associated with varying noise levels, and exposure for children, including impacts based on intensity and prolonged sound exposure, plus when certain care taking measures should be taken.

With all that said..

However, it’s still often difficult addressing all situations in all events

infant hearing protection optionsSimply put, even when we try our best it’s not enough.

If you live too close to the main traffic line with constant noise or near a construction site ( As I did when we moved into our new house!), then you may need to consider hearing protection equipment for your children.

On such efficient way to protect your child’s hearing is the use of infant noise cancelling headphones.

This noise canceling headphones (or in general terms, hearing protection equipment for infants) function in a way that they limit the level of sound which reaches the hearing system of the child.

They don’t block all the noise, just make it softer.

They can then be used when the child is inevitably going to be exposed to a sudden or a prolonged noisy experience.  A great little problem solver for social occasions.

For example.

Imagine you cannot get a babysitter

And you are

  • attending stadium events, gymnasiums, amusement parks, theatres and other entertainment facilities.
  • attending automobile races, sporting events or music concerts (regardless of the type of music or performance).
  • attending shooting sports ( I know it’s obviously OK but still..). The sound of a gunshot is equivalent to the sound a jet engine makes when it takeoff, which we already concluded is in the danger range for your kid.

As a concerned Parent I hope that I’ve provided you appropriate information based on the specific questions presented. 

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