The question: We're a young, outgoing couple and we're expecting our first child soon. We love checking out live music, and once in a while, we see a parent bring a toddler with large noise-cancelling headphones. Is it safe to expose young children to noisy environments? What's the best way to care for a child's hearing?
The answer: Sometimes parents need to take a reality check. Taking a toddler to a loud concert is a bad decision on many levels.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for exposing children to music and having toddlers experience age-appropriate cultural events. A live show with music loud enough that you would consider bringing noise-cancelling headphones hardly strikes me as a child-friendly outing.
But your instincts to protect your child's hearing are spot on. Children's ear canals are small and particularly susceptible to loud noises, and even brief exposure can induce permanent hearing loss. Sustained exposure to sounds greater than 85 decibels are known to damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear. This is equivalent to the noise made by a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer. Loud noises can also be very frightening for infants. Watch your child carefully for signs of displeasure, which may indicate that the noises in their environment are painful, disturbing or uncomfortable.
Wearing large headphones and keeping them on for the duration of a show is hardly enjoyable for the toddler. And chasing your child around the concert site inevitably diminishes your enjoyment of the outing. So by all means take your whole family to child-friendly venues where the volume and content of the music encourages children to participate and enjoy without the need for ear protection. Otherwise, get a babysitter!
Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He's a staunch advocate for children's health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.
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