Style Guidelines for Children’s Hearing Protection

As a general rule, earplugs are not recommended for children up to age 12 unless prescribed or fit by an audiologist or hearing healthcare professional. Earplugs are difficult to insert safely into a child’s smaller ears. If earplugs get dirty, which they do, it could aggravate ear infections. Most audiologists believe kids shouldn’t stick anything smaller than their elbow in their ears.

If hearing protection doesn’t seal out sound waves like swim goggles seal out water, then it won’t protect a child’s delicate hearing.

For wearing earmuffs, from birth to 3 years old is a grey area, in my opinion. Babies are born with 2 soft spots (fontanelles) on their head where skull bones haven’t fused together and hardened yet. This gives room for the baby’s brain to grow inside the skull. The back soft spot is usually finished fusing closed when babies are about 3 months old. The top soft spot is usually finished fusing closed when babies are about 2 to 3 years old.

In the past, parents didn’t usually have to worry about noise damage to their baby’s hearing. Now it’s more common to see babies and toddlers with earmuffs on at loud public places like concerts or stadiums. Earmuff headbands have a slight spring tension to keep the muffs sealed in place against the head. Stretching out the headband to make it looser destroys the protectiveness. Is the slight pressure safe for baby’s head? Parents need to weigh the risk versus risk of noise damage if loud sound exposure is unavoidable.

Maybe I’m overprotective. As an audiologist parent, these are my recommended guidelines when choosing hearing protection style.

Newborn to 3 months old

  • Avoid noise exposure.
  • If unavoidable, get medical clearance to safely use hearing protection from doctor, ENT, or audiologist.​
  • Be very careful with baby’s fragile head.​
  • Consider baby size earmuffs with cups that seal comfortably around ears.​

Age 3 months to 3 years old

  • If noise is unavoidable, get medical clearance to safely use hearing protection from doctor, ENT, or audiologist.​
  • Be very careful with baby or toddler’s fragile head.​
  • Consider baby or toddler size earmuffs with cups that seal comfortably around ears.​

Age 3 to 12 years old

  • Get medical clearance to safely use hearing protection from doctor, ENT, or audiologist.​
  • Consider well-fitting earmuffs with cups that seal comfortably around ears. Choose activity specific features if needed, e.g. hunting.
  • Older children with a larger head or ears might be able to use earplugs if safe and the style fits properly, e.g. custom-molded earplugs fit by hearing healthcare professional, pre-molded high fidelity or musician’s type earplugs.

Age 13+ years old

  • Consider well-fitting earmuffs with cups that seal comfortably around ears. There are a wide range of features available including high fidelity or flat attenuation to make it easier to hear voices or music, safe amplification, compatibility with personal listening devices if working in noise, and activity specific, e.g. hunting, ATVing.
  • Consider well-fitting earplugs that comfortably seal off the ear canals, e.g. high fidelity or musician’s pre-molded or custom-molded earplugs to higher noise reduction foam, silicone, or no-roll options. Activity specific earplugs and options for safe personal listening while working in noise are also available.
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