It's a fairly common sight on TV following a sports event or concert — a star athlete or celebrity holding his or her child, a colorful pair of earmuffs fitted snugly on the little one’s ears.

Why is it so important for kids to have their ears protected?

Keeping your child’s ears protected is important for the same reason you should keep your own ears protected — to reduce the possibility of damage from high noise levels. Your child doesn’t have as much control over his or her environment because you are making decisions for them. In situations with loud sounds, your child cannot say he or she does not want to attend, so it’s up to you to keep your child’s hearing protected to preserve their hearing.

You can keep your child’s hearing protected by being aware and proactive.

• Avoid putting things in his or her ears, including cotton swabs.

• Keep your child healthy to help prevent ear infections.

• If you have any concerns about your child’s hearing, ask for a hearing test.

• Protect your child from loud sounds. Any sound exposure should be low enough that adults could comfortably talk over it.

• Limit your child’s headphone use to 30 minutes at a time. The loud, prolonged sound from the headphones can lead to hearing loss. If you want your child to enjoy a movie or digital experience without the sounds interfering with your activity, put the volume on the lowest setting he or she can hear.

When should you use ear protection on your child?

There are situations when it isn’t possible to avoid loud sounds. In these instances, ear protection is highly recommended to avoid damaging your child’s hearing. Such occasions include:

• Attending loud events in stadiums, gymnasiums, amusement parks, theaters or auditoriums.

• Attending automobile races, sporting events and musical concerts (everything from rock concerts to symphonies).

• Watching fireworks.

• Riding a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle or farm equipment.

It’s important to recognize that hearing protection does not block out all sound; it makes sounds softer. Extremely loud sounds may still cause damage, and the louder the sounds, the more quickly damage can occur.

What types of hearing protection are out there for children?

Protecting your child’s hearing might seem like a bit of an undertaking, but there are a few options for parents with varying costs and benefits.

Earplugs are either soft foam or hard plastic inserts that fit into the ear canal. While they are less expensive than earmuffs, they are more susceptible to being lost and may not fit as well on younger children. The earplugs could also be considered a choke precaution. Some earplugs come with a strap so one doesn’t go missing, or they can be disposable as well. Earplugs are easy to tuck into a pocket or bag.

Foam earplugs may be more comfortable for your child, as they form to fit your child’s ear canal. Roll the earplugs into a small cylinder shape and insert them. The ear plugs will expand and fit snugly in the ear canal.

Earmuffs are a more expensive option but are easier to put and keep on young children. You don’t need to worry about them falling off/out, as they look like and are the size of wireless headphones.

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Kathy Beauchaine is an audiologist at Boys Town Ear, Nose & Throat Institute. To read more about Kathy, click here.

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