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Many “safe” headphones still carry risk of hearing loss for children

Pediatric Otolaryngologist Brianne Roby, MD, says parents should know that even headphones labeled “safe” could still cause hearing loss in children if they produce noise over 85 decibels.

Thinking about purchasing a pair of headphones for your child? Experts say be wary of labels claiming the product is “safe for young ears.” In fact, a recent study found many of those very headphones carry a risk of hearing loss.  

The study tested 30 sets of children’s headphones and found that they did not restrict the volume as promised. Some produced volume so loud it could cause damage in mere minutes. Pediatric Otolaryngologist Brianne Roby, MD, said she was not surprised to hear this report.

“If you measure at the noise levels of children’s toys, you will find many are louder than they should be,” Roby said.

Roby explained that a volume under 85 decibels is considered “safe,” according to standards set by the World Health Organization. Noise over 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss. Close to one-third of the headphones tested in the study allowed for volumes higher than 85 decibels, despite their “safe” label. Roby clarified that this inaccurate labeling can be dangerous, and cause hearing loss.

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“It’s clear parents shouldn’t rely on labels; they need to check the levels themselves,” Roby said.

Roby encourages parents to test the headphones before giving them to kids. If audio levels are comfortable for listening, the headphones are likely safe to hand over. She also suggests checking on children while they listen.

“If you walk up to your child and you can hear the words of the song they are listening to through headphones, the volume is too loud,” said Roby.

Many already understand that loud noise can cause hearing loss, Roby said, but parents aren’t always aware that seemingly benign items like toys and headphones can cause severe damage.

“Often, we picture guns going off or explosions when we think of hearing loss causes,” said Roby. “But consumers need to be aware that the things we enjoy can cause us harm, too.”