Posted on Thursday, July 28, 2016

Is White Noise Safe for Baby's Hearing?

baby inside baby seat

Sound machines, white noise apps, a vacuum cleaner sound played on an eight hour Youtube stream are all helpful tools used by sleep-deprived parents. And while these sounds truly do help soothe a cranky baby, when it comes to walking the line between helping baby sleep and caring for baby's hearing parents need to learn the three D's.

White noise is a great masker of unwanted sounds that could disturb baby's sleep. But a recent studied published in Pediatrics Digest brought up the unsettling fact that infant sound machines can be loud enough to harm baby's hearing.

This news probably isn't that startling to fans of this blog. In the past, we've reported that some children's toys create noises in excess of 120 decibels—a measurement of sound. That’s louder than the siren from an ambulance.

Still not everyone was listening, and with the release of this white-noise news a host of articles popped up overnight warning parents about the dangers of sound. Hooray! Not hooray sounds are dangerous, but hooray people are more aware noises can damage young hearing.

But now that we've all panicked over the idea that sound machines are like death rays for the ears, let's take a step back. Yes, some sounds can damage your child or baby's hearing, but there's no need to throw out the sound machine. Unless that thing cranks out at 120 decibels. In that case, toss it! Otherwise, when it comes to sound machines or whatever sound maskers parents use, it's helpful to remember the three D's--decibel, distance, and dose.

Decibel--A recent article on People Hearing Better took a stab at defining a decibel (dB). In short a decibel is a way to determine the loudness of a sound. The higher the number, the higher the sound. The thing about decibels that parents need to understand is that each three decibel increase doubles the chance for injury to the ear. How do decibels damage hearing? Inside the ear are small, delicate hairs that conduct sounds. Decibels that are too loud or listened to for too long or too closely can bend or break these hair cells. This can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss. According to the Women's and Children's Health Center, "Because of their thinner skulls, babies and young children are at greater risk from a loud sound than adults are."

When it comes to baby's hearing the unofficial rule for dB is that if you can talk over the sound then it is not too loud. The average conversation is 60 decibels. Here are a few apps to help you find out how loud that sound machine is set at.

Decibel 10
Decibel Meter
Multi Measures HD

Decibel isn't the only D you need to consider.

Distance--It's not only how loud a sound is but how close it is to your child that can cause problems. The further the sound is from your child's ears the less likely to cause damage. This was considered in the above mentioned report on sound machines. The report tested three distances--right next to baby, on the nightstand, and across the room. The findings showed, no surprise here, that the closer the sound machine the worse it was for baby's hearing. So, essentially, parents should keep sound machine a fair distance from baby, and perhaps consider not using a sound masker that doubles as a toy. Babies often grab things and bring them right up to their face, so a toy sound masker isn't going to do their hearing any good. In fact, you might want to play it safe and keep all toys that have sounds out of baby's crib.

Dose--Believe it or not, how long your child listens to a noise is almost as important as how loud and how close it is. Sounds that aren't considered harmful at ten minutes can become harmful if listened to for eight hours. And that's not just for babies. The government recommends that adults spend less than eight hours exposed to 85 decibels. There are some parents who casually play their baby's sound machine 24/7. Even at less than 60 dB common sense would tell you that this might be going overboard. Although the jury is still out on what a steady stream of noise does to a baby's hearing and development, until someone does the testing on this you're probably better off remembering that moderation rarely hurt anyone. And though people argue that the womb is loud and you are merely recreating that for your baby, the womb is also a different environment. Sound travels and reacts differently there. And allowing your baby to experience the cadence of natural sounds, not just the artificial ones pumped in through a sound machine, might be a good way to help them slowly recognize and become acclimated to sounds outside of the womb.

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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