Sound Machines Are Putting Babies’ Hearing at Risk, AAP Warns

baby sleeping in crib iStock

Certain volume levels and length of exposure can damage infants’ hearing

A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that sound machines—which parents have long used to help lull babies to sleep (and keep household noise from waking them up) may actually be harmful.

The study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, found that babies and toddlers may not recognize when noise exposure gets to be hazardous for them, and they need to rely on adults to remove them from those situations. But personal listening devices, including sound machines, are increasingly common—and they can damage kids’ hearing when they’re exposed to high levels of noise over the long term.

In a statement released on Saturday, the AAP said, “What families may not realize is that children are exposed to potentially harmful noise from infancy and that the effects are cumulative over a lifetime. The AAP recommends that parents and caregivers consider that if an environment sounds too loud for an adult, it probably is too loud for a child. ‘Too loud’ can mean having to raise your voice to speak with someone just an arm’s length away.”

ABC News medical correspondent Dr. Darien Sutton told Good Morning America that this revelation means that millions of kids may be at risk of some form of hearing loss.

“One of the reasons why is because children have smaller ear canals. That exposes them to intensification of that higher frequency sound and [makes] them at risk for damage,” Sutton explained. “The Academy of Pediatrics recommends, for example, that nurseries have a volume maximum of around 50 decibels. That’s a volume that you and I can speak at without raising our voice. Most of these machines go above that. So if you’re going to use them, turn that volume down, place it away from the bed at least seven feet, and make sure that you give limits.”

Dr. Nilong Vyas, a pediatrician at Sleepless in NOLA and medical review expert at also weighed in on the matter: “It’s appropriate for children to use sound machines when they are first learning to sleep through the night. However, once they achieve that milestone (as early as 4-6 months), parents should consider reducing the use of sound machines and only using them when necessary, such as during loud outdoor events like thunderstorms or fireworks,” she said. “In my view, constant sound input is not a healthy habit to encourage and may have negative consequences, but parents should not be made to feel guilty about their choices.” And, honestly, we can’t stress that last point enough. Review all of the info and guidelines and then do what works best for your family.

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