Just as you teach your children to wear sunscreen, use a seatbelt, and wear a bicycle helmet, teach them to wear hearing protectors to limit noise exposure.
Tips to help your children use hearing protectors
- Set clear rules for when hearing protectors should be worn. Tell your children that you expect them to wear hearing protectors in noisy areas, even when you aren’t there to supervise. For example, is your child in the school band or going riding on a dirt bike? It’s time for your child to put on hearing protectors.
- Shop for hearing protectors with them. Discuss with your children whether they would rather wear earplugs that can be hidden by hair or a hat, or make a fashion statement with more noticeable hearing protectors. Many colorful and comfortable styles of hearing protectors are available in stores and online.
- Choose hearing protectors that fit in with your children’s daily activities. If your children play in a band or orchestra, earplugs can help protect their hearing. Special musicians’ earplugs (often called high fidelity ear plugs) are available so that your children can hear instruments clearly, but at a softer level. You can also find hearing protectors designed specifically for hunting or shooting sports.
- Make sure hearing protection is within reach. Keep hearing protection devices in areas that are within easy reach of your children. Hearing protectors that are hidden in a drawer and aren’t worn will not do any good.
When to Use Hearing Protectors
Hearing protectors limit the level of sound. They do not block out all noise—they just make noise softer. Use hearing protectors when you or your children are exposed to noise that is too loud or lasts too long. The louder the sound, the quicker hearing damage will occur.
For example, your children should use hearing protectors when:
- Attending loud events in stadiums, gymnasiums, amusement parks, theaters, auditoriums, and other entertainment facilities.
- Attending auto races, sporting events, and music concerts of all types, including symphonies and rock concerts.
- Riding a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or farm tractor.
- Participating in shooting sports. The sound of a gunshot can reach the same level as a jet engine at takeoff. At this decibel level, noise can damage your child’s hearing immediately and permanently. Hearing protectors should be a standard part of shooting-safety gear.
Types of Hearing Protectors
The amount of protection a hearing protector offers is measured by its Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the better the device limits sound. Many companies now make hearing protectors in sizes to fit children. To find a list of companies on the Internet, search for "hearing protectors for children." Your local grocery, drug, and hardware stores may also carry some protectors.
Earplugs are either soft foam or hard plastic inserts that fit directly into the ear canal. They can be less expensive than earmuffs, and come in both disposable and reusable options. Earplugs are also easy to carry around in a purse or pocket. Some even come with a neck strap so that your child won’t lose one if it falls out.
Foam earplugs. These earplugs are rolled into a thin cylinder that is put halfway into the ear canal. Once in the ear, the earplug reshapes itself to fill the area snugly.
Get the right fit:
- Roll the earplug up into a small, thin "snake" with your fingers. You can use one or both hands.
- Pull the top of your ear up and back with your opposite arm to straighten out your ear canal. Use the other hand to slide the earplug in.
- Hold the earplug in with your finger. Count to 20 or 30 out loud while waiting for the plug to expand and fill the ear canal. Your voice will sound muffled when the plug has made a good seal.
- Check the fit when you’re done. Most of the foam body of the earplug should be within the ear. Try cupping your hands tightly over your ears. If sounds are much more muffled with your hands in place, the earplug may not be sealing properly. Take the earplug out and try again.
Premolded earplugs. These earplugs are made from plastic, rubber, or silicone and are shaped like an ice cream cone. They are sold in different sizes. Your child will probably need a smaller size.
Earmuffs often look like wireless headphones. The part that fits over the ear could be filled with fluid, foam, or both to make sure that the earmuff fits easily and closely. Earmuffs can often cost more than earplugs, but they are easier than earplugs for young children to put on correctly. You also won’t have to worry about the earmuffs sliding out. Even if you buy earmuffs for your child, you might also want to have some spare earplugs on hand.
Get the right fit:
- Check to make sure the earmuffs are not too loose for your child’s head.
- If your child wears glasses, check to make sure the earmuffs seal properly over them and are not uncomfortable.
When Hearing Protectors Are Not Available
When hearing protectors aren’t an option, cover your ears with your hands. Other ways to protect your hearing are to lower the volume or to move away from the noise.
By teaching your children about hearing protectors and why and when they are needed, you can empower your children to make smart decisions that can protect their hearing now and in the future.