Earbuds are popular among children and teenagers, but these tiny devices can cause big damage to hearing if used improperly.

Over time, exposure to sounds 85 decibels (dB)—the sound level of a gas powered lawnmower or leave blower—or higher can cause noise-induced hearing loss. More than 5 million children and teens ages 6–19 have this condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can experience far-reaching consequences—children need good hearing to develop reading and language skills.

“If your child reports a feeling of fullness in the ear or a ringing or buzzing sound after using earbuds, then his hearing has been damaged,” says Jamie Cadieux, AuD, CCC-A, a Washington University pediatric audiologist and supervisor of audiology and cochlear implants at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “This may not lead to hearing loss the first time, but each episode of damage is cumulative and can create permanent hearing loss over time.”

To protect your child’s hearing,

  • Advise him to keep the volume at a level that people nearby can’t hear, which means the noise level is safer.
  • Encourage her to keep the volume dial below the halfway mark.
  • Give him volume-limiting earbuds or headphones.
  • Tell her to avoid using earbuds in public, where they can block out warning sirens and other important sounds.

Contact the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Center for Families Resource Library to have information on noise-induced hearing loss sent to you.