Imagine you're a grade three student in a busy classroom. The teacher asks a question, but you don't hear it.
It's not that you're not paying attention or that you're not a smart, dedicated kid. The problem is you are dealing with hearing loss and sounds that come easily to others don't register as easily with you.
And the worst part? You're only a kid. You have no idea what noise-induced hearing loss is. The damage to your ears didn't happen overnight, but over a long period of time. You're too young to realize there is a problem. This is the only kind of hearing you've ever known your entire life.
The teacher calls your name again. And again. But you don't look up from your book. Soon, you hear a low, steady roar like a wave hitting a shore, far away.
Finally, a student in the desk next to you taps your shoulder. That low, steady roar you heard, like a wave hitting a shore, far away? That's not a wave, it's laughter. All the kids in the classroom are laughing at you. You're instantly rattled, embarrassed, short of breath. The teacher, in a loud voice that you can now hear all too well is scolding you for not paying attention. Get your head out of the clouds, you're told. Sorry, you say as you ask the teacher to repeat the question. But you haven't been following on the right page in the book because you couldn't hear the teacher. You're lost. You're on the spot and you can't hide.
You don't understand what is going on, but as you listen to the student behind you easily handle the teacher's question you feel small, sad and dumb. And those kids - your friends - are still snickering at your expense. You know you're as smart as the other kids. Nobody understands what is going on. Not your parents, not your friends, not your teacher. Not you.
You loathe being in this classroom because this scenario plays itself out again and again at least three times a week. And each time it does, your self-confidence suffers. And you're only in grade three.Yes, school can be a joyful time. But for children dealing with hearing loss it can be a lonely, trying and sometimes nerve-racking experience. Sadly, hearing loss isn't uncommon in children and for a young person dealing with hearing issues, school can be a daunting and terrifying place.
According to bbaudiology, hearing loss can greatly affect a child’s ability to learn and participate in classroom activities. Reports that undiagnosed hearing loss can lead to a longer learning curve, speech and language delays, as well as behavioral problems due to the child not hearing or understanding instructions.
There are many different causes for hearing loss in young people. Connect Hearing Canada recently published a story entitled 'Back-to-School Activities That Can Put Children's Hearing at Risk' that listed loud music via headphones, bands (via concerts or jamming with friends), ear infections and not wearing the correct equipment while playing sports.
According to the American Osteopathic Association, one in five teens has some form of hearing loss - a rate about 30% higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s - which many experts believe is due, in part, to the increased use of headphones.
How loud is too loud? In the report Dr. James E. Foy, an osteopathic pediatrician from Vallejo, California says "most MP3 players today can produce sounds up to 120 decibels, equivalent to a sound level at a rock concert. At that level, hearing loss can occur after only about an hour and 15 minutes."
Dr. Foy advises that people should not exceed 60 percent of maximum volume when listening through headphones.
The 60 percent rule is echoed in a story published at Vanderbilt University that focused on headphone safety tips.
"If parents can hear sound coming from their child’s headphones while they are wearing them, it’s too loud,” says Kristina Rigsby, a pediatric audiologist at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. “A good rule of thumb is the “60/60 rule,” which means using only 60 percent of the device’s volume level for no more than 60 minutes at a time. After 60 minutes, give your ears a break for at least an hour."
Understanding hearing loss is a big reason why we encourage people to visit our clinics for free hearing tests.
While we are always happy to answer any questions parents may have, Connect Hearing doesn't test children - instead we recommend that parents take their children to their general practitioner who will refer them to the appropriate agency for testing and treatment. Even though we do not work directly with children, parents are always welcome to come in for a free hearing test at our clinics. There is no better way to get your children interested in hearing safety than by letting them watch you get a free test yourself.
M.J. DeSousa, Connect Hearing’s Director of Professional Practice, says when it comes to children's health parents can never have too much information. Taking the time to arm yourself with knowledge about hearing loss can mean the difference between a confident and successful child, or a child struggling to make it through the day.
“I would like to tell you that the only people who deal with hearing loss are the elderly, or adults who have suffered some sort of workplace injury. I'm here to tell you that that is a misconception,” says DeSousa. “Hearing loss is something that a lot of people deal with in silence – don't let your children become a part of that statistic. Teach them about their hearing. Help them to understand the importance of hearing safety when they're young. If you think there may be an issue see your doctor and with their guidance refer your child to the proper agency for further testing.”
For DeSousa, one of the biggest contributions that a parent can give to their child is the gift of a good example. Simply stressing the importance of hearing safety – and walking the walk when it comes to safe hearing practices – can make all the difference.
“If you want your children to respect their ears and protect their hearing, then respect your ears by engaging in safe hearing practices, having conversations about hearing safety, and getting tested if you need to,” said DeSousa. “A parent who makes their hearing a high priority will have children who will do the same. There's nothing more frustrating than watching a person using a riding lawn mower without hearing protection, or blasting headphones into their ears at maximum volume without following the 60/60 rule. Remember, hearing health begins with you.