Infant Hearing at Risk From White Noise


Many people use sleep machines to lull their babies to sleep.  A new study indicates that these machines may generate sound levels that could be dangerous.  The potential damage from the noise could cause future problems such as hearing loss.  Hearing loss can affect speech and create learning problems.  The white noise from the machines may pose a risk to an infant’s hearing.

White noise machines typically emit soothing sounds such as a heartbeat, falling rain, sounds of nature, or just a simple white noise.  They are used not just to soothe a baby to sleep but also to mask other environmental noises such as traffic, television, or other household sounds.  These machines are using one noise to cover other noises simply adding to the level of noise already present in the infant’s hearing range.

The study examined 14 different machines marketed for use as an infant white noise machine and found that all 14 devices could produce levels of sound that would exceed acceptable limitations in a hospital nursery.  Additionally, three of the machines were capable of exceeding the hazardous limitations allowed for noises in an adult workplace.  The tests were performed using a sound booth and each device was tested at maximum volume.  The test included results where the machines were placed at varying distances from the recorder.  The distances were to simulate the noise machine being placed in different spots in an infant’s room such as hanging off the crib, across the room, or on a table next to the crib.

The findings concluded that all but one of the machines were able to produce sounds greater than the allowable hospital nursery limitations, even when placed across the room from where the child would be sleeping.  The sound meters used were outfitted with specialized attachments in order to simulate the ear canal of an infant, which is different than those in an older child or adult.  It was concluded that the white noise from these devices is capable of placing an infant’s hearing at risk.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics today and will also be available in the April print issue.  The lead author of the study and chief otolaryngologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Dr. Blake Papsin, believes that if these machines are used for too long or placed too close to the infant, they have the potential to damage the infant’s hearing.  While the study measured noise levels at different distances, it did not directly address the issue of possible hearing loss or any other long term implications.

At this time, there is no data to show how these noise levels may affect the future of a baby.  The research into actual hearing loss has not yet been performed.  Additionally, there have not been any studies on the implications of using sound masking machines to determine what influence they have, if any, on how a child reacts to noisy environments.  This particular study and the results measure only the noise level outputs of the 14 different machines.  The resultant information indicates that there may be a risk to an infant’s hearing when a white noise machine is used.  Further studies will have to determine more specific information.

By Dee Mueller

Fox News
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