The world of kids is loud: TVs and computer games are bad enough, not to mention the music blasting millimeters from the eardrums of many tweens and teens through their ever-present earbuds. So just how loud is too loud?

“If it causes ringing or pain in the ears, it’s too loud,” says Blair Cristel, clinical audiologist with Mercy St. Louis. “And when the child is listening through headphones, if you can hear it, it’s too loud. In our experience, typically 75 percent volume on an MP3 player or higher when played through headphones has the potential of reaching dangerous levels.”

A child wearing headphones or earbuds should still be able to hear conversation in the room around them, adds Sarah Duncan, lead audiologist at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. And the cost of ignoring safe listening practices can lead to permanent hearing loss.

“An estimated 12.5 percent of children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 years (approximately 5.2 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise,” says Duncan. Such hearing loss is irreversible.

“Loud noise damages the hair cells inside the inner ear,” explains Rebecca Frazier, chief audiologist at the Center for Hearing and Speech. “While they are pretty resilient, they can only take so much exposure. Most people experience this resilience when they go to a concert without ear protection, and they get in their car and turn the radio up because there has been a temporary shift in hearing. When the hearing recovers, usually by the morning, they go out to the car and they notice that the radio is unusually loud. The cells have bounced back and are now functioning again. However, if you continue to to go to concerts without ear protection, that temporary shift might become permanent.”

Starting at an early age, parents should be aware of the noise levels their children are exposed to and manage their environment to help ensure hearing is protected. “They should check the decibel level of the toys before buying them,” Frazier says. “They can also purchase head-phones that do not allow the music to go above a certain level to ensure that it won’t get too loud to cause damage to the ear.” Parents and children alike benefit from wearing ear protection when exposed to loud noises like lawn mowers, power tools or rock concerts, Cristel adds.

“Turn the volume down, carry earplugs with you, and get your hearing screened at least every two years,” Frazier concludes. A little caution now can help ensure better hearing later.

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