I’ve seen babies and toddlers at sporting events wearing noise-reducing, hearing protection headphones that look like ear muffs. I’ve even seen them on William and Kate’s son, George. Do they really need them?
Technically speaking, everyone’s ears could benefit from the protection against exposure to loud noise, says Dr. William Spencer, a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist and chief of ENT at Huntington Hospital.
“It’s like everybody should wear sunblock,” agrees Dr. Ghassan Samara, associate professor of surgery in the division of otolaryngology at Stony Brook University. “Sustained loud noise and even brief, very loud noises can cause hearing loss and permanent hearing loss. If you’re wearing headphones to drown out the noise in a very loud environment, that is a good idea. I’m all for that.”
Such protection is especially beneficial for babies, toddlers and any child repeatedly exposed to loud noise at events such as professional sports games or parades with fire engine or police sirens, both doctors say.
“Because you have a whole life ahead of you as children, it’s more critical,” Samara says. “Loud noises over a lifetime will cause hearing loss. In older people, the damage is done.”
Explains Spencer: “What happens is, when you are listening to sound, the louder it is, the more vibration it causes.” Sound goes through the ear drum to nerve endings. And damage is cumulative. That’s why people who work in factories or airports may have a higher chance of hearing loss over time. “Nerve endings can become traumatized,” he says.
Spencer offers the analogy of a leaf blower and a bed of tulips. If the leaf blower’s powerful blast knocks the tulips over, after a few hours they’ll stand back up. But if they are repeatedly blown over, the stems may eventually break.