Hearing damage creeps up at a young age: ‘Then it gets worse’

Around 14 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 11 have early hearing damage, also called noise damage. This was already evident in 2018 from a large population survey of the Erasmus MC, Generation R.

Parties and festivals

If at a later age, for example during walking, even more injuries are added, it goes from bad to worse. Kloet: “It accumulates. If you first hear a lot of music as a child, later go to school parties and later go to concerts or festivals, more and more damage can occur to the hair cells in the ears. And it is irreversible.”

The horror stories about severe tinnitus are well known: You always suffer from noise in your head, from beeping, hissing and banging.

There is no cure, so prevention of noise damage is the motto. Where are the risks? “The main exposures to loud noise for children are phones and tablets. They listen to music, play games, watch videos on YouTube. Often with headphones on because parents don’t always want to hear that sound.”

Use a limiter

You can safely be exposed to 88 decibels for 15 hours a week during your free time, says Kloet. “Set a limiter on your child’s tablet or phone. This ensures that the sound is never louder than 85 decibels.” A study by SafetyNL in 2020 showed that a quarter of young people have turned up the volume too loud.

Without such a limiter, the sound from a tablet or phone on your children’s ears can reach up to 100 db. And it can do serious damage. Kloet: “Every extra 3 dB doubles the sound’s impact on your hearing. And cuts your safe listening time in half.”

On the political agenda

Prevention of hearing damage is also a topic of discussion in The Hague. At the beginning of this year, State Secretary Maarten van Ooijen from the Public Health, Welfare and Sport Health Council asked for a vision on the prevention of hearing damage: “WHO recommends 100 dB as the maximum noise level during festivals and concerts. 18 years old. I asked for advice about.”

The Secretary of State also asked the Health Council to look into the prevention of health damage in the private sphere, for example by music players. Recommendations should be available in the autumn.

Specifically for young children, the Health Council has been asked to provide separate advice on additional hearing screening. “That will come at a later date.”

SafetyNL advocates an additional hearing screening for all children at the end of primary school or at the start of upper secondary school. This is to detect hearing damage, but also to draw attention to the risks. Now the hearing of babies and toddlers is only tested once as standard.

Someone who is certainly familiar with the risk of hearing damage is Dennis Kox. The Five Lakes Clinic ENT doctor emphasizes the importance of headphones with volume limiters for children. “For example, when a child plays, the sound is not constantly at 85 decibels. But there are occasional high deviations. A limiter ensures that such deviation remains within the safe standard.”

‘You hear worse’

Parents should also realize that their hearing takes a little more wear and tear than their children’s. “If you play a song extra loud, your child will hear it much louder, so remember that.”

Kox emphasizes that there is certainly no need to panic. “For example, we shouldn’t be afraid of music. Music is something that humanity has always enjoyed. And it should remain that way. I also think that you should want to convey that message to children. Listen to music, too to music your parents don’t like. But not too long and not too loud. And if you go to a concert or festival, bring earplugs.”

Kox does not believe that an additional hearing screening is necessary for children at the end of elementary school or the start of high school. “Measuring is not always knowing. I have enough patients with tinnitus complaints for whom the result of a hearing test is good.”

Tiktok campaign?

The doctor sees more benefit in information in the primary school, such as he himself provides. “I explain how your ear and hearing work and what happens with too much noise. And how you can prevent damage.”

He continues: “My children come home with things they hear and see on TikTok. The government could think of an information campaign on this topic with an important influencer.”

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