Understanding what makes a loud noise harmful is the first step in preventing damage to your baby’s hearing. Sound is measured in decibels, and decibel levels vary in the potential damage they can cause to a baby’s ears, because the risk of damage depends on the duration and intensity of the sound. This means that prolonged exposure to moderate-to-loud noise can be as damaging as a sudden, short burst of extremely loud noise.
Understanding Noise and Decibels
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, noise is painful at between 120 and 150 decibels. For example, the amount of noise emitted by fireworks at 3 feet is 150 decibels, while a firearm emits 140 decibels. Noise is still loud enough to be damaging at between 90 and 110 decibels, though. A passing motorcycle emits 90 decibels of sound, while a chain saw emits 110. Your hair dryer or blender are still very loud to your baby’s ears, emitting 80 to 90 decibels of noise, while your vacuum produces 70 decibels.
Safe Noise Levels
Safe decibel levels for babies can vary according to the duration and intensity of the exposure. The amount of energy in a sound doubles if it gets louder by 3 decibels. A general rule you can follow is that if a noise makes it difficult to hear conversation at a normal volume, then it could damage your child's hearing. To understand how loud this is, keep in mind that a normal conversation is about 60 decibels. If you have to raise your voice to be heard, or the sound is loud enough to make hearing difficult for you, then it is likely too loud for your baby.
According to The Women’s and Children’s Health Network, babies are particularly vulnerable to hearing damage due to their thinner skulls. To understand how loud some toys are and how likely long-term exposure to these toys is to damage your baby’s hearing, it helps to compare their noise level to other types of noise. For example, some toy cap guns can reach 110 to 135 decibels, a level of noise similar to a rock concert. A whistle emits 106 decibels, while a drum makes about 103 decibels of noise and a rattle gives off 102 decibels, which is more noise than a police car siren at 96 decibels.
Preventing Hearing Damage
Your baby’s toys can be extremely loud, even if they’re intended for infants. Babies often bring toys close to their face and ears instinctively, because this is part of the learning process. However, this can increase the risk of damage to their ears if the toy is designed to be held further away. The volume and intensity of the sound decreases as the toy is held further away, and it increases and becomes more intense when your baby brings it closer, making it louder than what is considered safe. To preserve your baby’s hearing, avoid exposing him to toys that have sirens or that make popping sounds, and avoid toys that speak or play music but do not have a way for you to adjust their volume. Listen to toys before you purchase them, and if you’re heading to locations where loud noise is likely, such as a fireworks display or a concert, place noise-canceling headphones on your baby’s ears to protect them.