So, your kid is in a band and planning to get his or her first set of in-ear monitors or IEMs. Are these devices safe? In this article, you’ll find out if wireless in-ear monitors for drummers, musicians, singers, and audiophiles are safe for kids and teenagers.
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Why Are Kids Sensitive to Loud Noise?
Compared to adults, babies and kids are more prone to ear damage due to sudden or prolonged exposure to excessive noise. The main reason for this has to do with their thinner skulls and narrower ear canals.
It all starts with the auricle or pinna, the visible part of the outside of the ears. The unique shape and curves of the auricle work to capture sound that comes from different directions. Then, it directs the sound waves into the ear canal until they strike the eardrum. This causes the eardrums and ossicles (three tiny bones) to vibrate.
The tiny hairs in the cochlea (fluid-filled, snail-shaped structure) pick up the vibrations then convert them into electrical impulses that the sensory nerves carry to the brain. After the brain interprets these electrical impulses, you’ll be able to hear a sound with a specific pitch, resonance, and timber.
Because of the narrow ear canal of babies and children, sounds are usually amplified further. This causes a sound to become even louder. That’s why they’re bothered or easily startled by loud sounds in the higher frequencies. Over time, loud sounds will destroy the tiny hairs in the cochlea, making it more difficult for them to hear.
How Loud is Too Loud?
There’s no fixed safe sound levels because it depends on the duration of exposure. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication DisordersTrusted Source (NIDCD), 85 decibels (dBA) is enough to cause hearing damage. If you want to lower your kid’s risk of hearing loss, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests kids should only be exposed to sounds that are not more than 70 decibels.
Below are the average decibel ratings of a few common sounds to help you and your child understand the numbers:
- Acoustic drum kits: 130 dBA (This sound level is similar to observing a military jet taking off from 50 feet away.)
- Concerts and chainsaws: around 120 dBA (Exposure to this sound level for less than 2 minutes can already damage anyone’s ears.)
- Cement mixer: 85 dBA (After 8 hours of exposure to this noise, it’s bound to affect your kid’s hearing.)
- Portable music player with stock headphones: 100 dBA (if at maximum volume)
- Normal conversation: 60 to 70 dBA (with background noise) or 50 to 60 dBA (without background noise or shouting)
- Ordinary music device: 94 to 110 dBA
- Subway station: 90 dBA
- Kitchen appliances: 80 to 90 dBA
- Breathing: silent to 10 dBA
It’s clear that kids are more sensitive to loud sounds than adults. Therefore, they have a higher risk of hearing problems, such as tinnitus and permanent hearing loss. So, are in-ear monitors a safe and effective hearing protection for kids?
Are In-Ear Monitors Safe for Kids and Teenagers?
The answer is both a yes and a no. Let us explain.
Whether your kid is a budding singer or drummer for a rock band, hearing protection is a must. In fact, 44.2 percent of amateur drummers and 57.6 percent of professional drummers are three to four times more likely to develop tinnitus (buzzing or ringing in the ears) than other musicians, according to the 2006 Percussive Arts Society study.
There are several devices that you could get your kids to protect their ears from loud sounds, such as earplugs, noise reduction ear muffs, drummer headphones, and wireless in-ear monitors. Among the four, in-ear monitors provide the best hearing protection for kid musicians.
How will young musicians benefit from wearing IEMs? These audio devices can decrease the environmental noise by as much as 20 to 30 decibels, which is already significant.
There are currently no large-scale, peer-reviewed studies on how safe in-ear monitors are for kids or teenagers or at what age they should use them. However, some experts say there’s really no minimum age for IEMs because they can protect people of any age from loud noises.
How do IEMs work to protect the ears [How Do In-Ear Monitors Work]? With the right fit, in-ear monitors block out unnecessary noise from the surrounding environment while allowing kids or teenagers to hear themselves and their personal mix better during performances or practice sessions. With the controls in their hands, they can adjust the playback volume to a level that won’t permanently damage their ears.
But here’s the thing: Although these devices offer hearing protection, it doesn’t mean they won’t negatively affect the delicate working of your kid’s inner ear. Even with the volume control, IEMs could still cause tinnitus and hearing loss, depending on the following factors:
- Listening duration
- Size of the inner ear
- Volume level at which the music is playing
- Specific type and model of in-ear monitors [In-Ear Monitor Types] used
If kids use in-ear monitors for hours at high volumes, there’s still a possibility that they’ll suffer from damaged ears. Listening to music using IEMs for an hour or longer at 85 decibels is already enough to damage the eardrum of anyone, especially kids. However, if your kid uses them for a shorter duration in a low volume, IEMs are typically safe to use.
Practical tip: If it’s not necessary—for instance, your child isn’t a professional musician who’s going on tour—let your child use in-ear monitors once he or she’s old enough to know whether the volume level is comfortable.
To sum it up, in-ear monitors are generally safe for young kids and teenagers. However, they can also be harmful, depending on the above highlighted factors. Either way, it’s best to talk to a trustworthy audiologist to help you decide whether your kid is ready for a set of IEMs and give you helpful tips on how your kid can safely use them.