Preventing Excessive Noise Exposure in Infants, Children, and Adolescents

Document Type

Journal Article

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Noise exposure is a major cause of hearing loss in adults. Yet, noise affects people of all ages, and noise-induced hearing loss is also a problem for young people. Sensorineural hearing loss caused by noise and other toxic exposures is usually irreversible. Environmental noise, such as traffic noise, can affect learning, physiologic parameters, and quality of life. Children and adolescents have unique vulnerabilities to noise. Children may be exposed beginning in NICUs and well-baby nurseries, at home, at school, in their neighborhoods, and in recreational settings. Personal listening devices are increasingly used, even by small children. Infants and young children cannot remove themselves from noisy situations and must rely on adults to do so, children may not recognize hazardous noise exposures, and teenagers generally do not understand the consequences of high exposure to music from personal listening devices or attending concerts and dances. Environmental noise exposure has disproportionate effects on underserved communities. In this report and the accompanying policy statement, common sources of noise and effects on hearing at different life stages are reviewed. Noise-abatement interventions in various settings are discussed. Because noise exposure often starts in infancy and its effects result mainly from cumulative exposure to loud noise over long periods of time, more attention is needed to its presence in everyday activities starting early in life. Listening to music and attending dances, concerts, and celebratory and other events are sources of joy, pleasure, and relaxation for many people. These situations, however, often result in potentially harmful noise exposures. Pediatricians can potentially lessen exposures, including promotion of safer listening, by raising awareness in parents, children, and teenagers. Noise exposure is underrecognized as a serious public health issue in the United States, with exposure limits enforceable only in workplaces and not for the general public, including children and adolescents. Greater awareness of noise hazards is needed at a societal level.