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“Noise Reduction” Headphones May Cause Hearing Damage for Some Children: Report

A new study indicates that most so-called “noise reduction” headphones that are targeted for children do not actually provide the hearing protection they claim, and may actually cause children to suffer hearing damage at a young age. 

According to an analysis published on the website The Wirecutter on December 6, many manufacturers of children’s headphones claim to deliver 100 percent safe listening, which the report warns is false.

The consumer advocacy organization released the study after testing over two dozen popular headphones that are advertised as “safe for young ears” and found that over half had the potential to produce dangerous levels of sound.

The Wirecutter’s report, “The Best Kids Headphones,” sought to find whether manufacturers’ claims of safe listening levels for children were accurate, by testing allowable decibel limits of 30 sets of popular brand headphones currently stocked in stores for this holiday season. With more than half of the adolescent population reportedly using or listening to music through the use of headphones, medical professionals have grown concerned over the validity of allowable sound limits claimed by manufacturers.

With advice and guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), researchers from The Wirecutter used two popular youth songs, one boys would be likely to listen to and one girls would be likely to listen to, to test headphones and earbuds connected to an iPod Touch device.

The results of the testing indicate that sound output levels for the boys’ music group exceeded the proclaimed safe listening level in more than half of the 30 devices, and over one third of the headphones playing the girls’ music exceeded manufacturer proclaimed limited levels.

In both test groups, the proclaimed safe volume limit was to be no more than 85 decibels. However, the boys’ group was found to reach up to 114 decibels and the girls’ test group was found to reach levels up to 108 decibels.

Excessive levels of sound directly to the ear over periods of time can cause long term hearing problems. According to the study, exposure to 100 decibels is only safe for up to 15 minutes and noise at 108 decibels is safe for less than three minutes. For comparison the average volume of noise caused by a power lawn mower generally produces 100 plus decibels.

Researchers advise parents or guardians to purchase headphones with both volume limits and outside noise canceling features to prevent children from turning the volume up to compensate for surrounding noise.

The Wirecutter’s study also recommends never allowing children to turn the volume up more than 60 percent of the allowable limit and make children take breaks from using headphones at least every hour to allow the hair cells in the inner ear to rest to prevent hearing damage. As a general rule for parents to use, a child within an arm’s length away should be able to hear and interpret a question.

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