Hearing loss can cause delays in speech and language development. It is never too early to help your child learn language.
If you have concerns about your child’s hearing, ask your doctor for a referral to see an audiologist who tests hearing.
Use communication milestones to check how well your baby and child’s speech and language skills are developing. If you have concerns, you can get help from the Early Expressions Preschool Speech and Language program.
When to check your child’s hearing
Your child’s hearing should be checked if you observe any of the following:
- Listens to the TV or radio at higher volumes than other children
- Sits closer to the TV when the volume is fine for others
- Asks to have instructions repeated
- Is easily distracted or bothered by background noise
- Has difficulty telling sounds apart
- Has trouble paying attention
- Experiences speech and language, school and learning, or behavioural problems
- Complains of difficulty hearing or blocked ears
- Responds inappropriately to questions
- Watches others to copy what they are doing
- People have to raise their voice to get your child’s attention
- Shows inconsistent response to sound
- Watches the speaker’s face closely to figure out what the person is saying
- Turns their head to face the sound source
- Talks in a soft or loud voice
A baby’s hearing is very sensitive and can be easily damaged by loud sounds. A baby’s ear canals are much smaller than an adult. When sounds enter the canal they become louder.
- Noisy toys and games can cause hearing damage.
- If a toy sounds loud to an adult, it is much louder to a baby or child.
- Toys should not exceed 80 to 85 decibels (e.g., alarm clock).
The facts about hearing:
- Sounds that are less than 80 decibels are unlikely to cause hearing loss.
- Hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair cells in the inner ear are damaged by loud sounds. Consistent exposure to moderate-level loud sounds (i.e., more than 80 decibels) damages the hair cells in the inner ear. Over time these cells die and permanent hearing loss occurs.
- Brief exposures to extremely loud sounds can cause permanent damage.
- If you have to shout to be heard, then you should avoid the situation or use ear protection.
- Personal listening devices (e.g., iPods®) can reach a maximum of 115 decibels, which is loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss with prolonged use.
Everyday sounds can affect your child’s hearing
- Whispered voice – 35 decibels
- Normal conversation – 60 decibels
Very loud levels
- Vacuum cleaner – 70 decibels
- Alarm clock or city street traffic – 80 decibels
Extremely loud levels
- Restaurants – 90 decibels
- Noisy toys, lawn mower, shop tools, truck traffic, or subway – 90 decibels
- Motorcycle – 95 decibels
- Snowmobile, chain saw, pneumatic drill, or night clubs – 100 decibels
- Helicopter – 105 decibels
- Personal listening devices like portable music players used at maximum levels – 115 decibels
Dangerously loud levels
- Amplified rock music, band practice, car stereo, ambulance siren, jet plane take-off, motorcycles, or firecrackers – 120 decibels
- Jackhammer – 130 decibels
- Firearms or jet engine – 140 decibels
- Rock music peak – 150 decibels
Unsafe levels of exposure
- Very loud – 85 decibels. Prolonged exposure to any noise above 80 to85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss
- Extremely loud – 100 decibels. No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure is recommended.
- Dangerously loud – 110+ decibels. Regular exposure of more than one minute risks permanent hearing loss.
Protect yourself and your child from noise
The best way to protect hearing is to avoid loud situations. When loud noises can’t be avoided, help reduce the risk of damage by:
- Wearing hearing protection like ear muffs, foam plugs, pre-molded ear plugs and ear canal caps.
- Wearing ear plugs for low-frequency noise and ear muffs for high-frequency noise.
- Having a complete air seal between the hearing protector and the skin, reducing noise levels by 15 to 30 decibels.
- Purchasing ear muffs for babies and young children.
- Limiting the use and volume level of personal listening devices like portable music players.
All babies in Ontario can have their hearing screened, either in the hospital or in the community. For more information call the Infant Hearing Program at 613-549-1232 or 1-800-267-7875, ext. 1145.
- Infant Hearing Program – Ontario Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services
Reprinted with the permission of KFL&A Public Health.