For many years, white noise machines have been held up as a means of dealing with conditions ranging from insomnia to tinnitus. More recently, however, these gadgets have been held up as a go-to method for fussy infants. Babies can, we’re told, be lulled into a peaceful sleep with just a little bit of white noise. Lets know about the answer to whether infant sound machines lead to hearing loss.
Recently, however, we’ve started to see questions about how white noise can impact our hearing. Although a 1990 study found that 80% of babies fell asleep after five minutes of white noise, more recent research has questioned whether or not this is actually safe. As reported by NBC News, in 2014, researchers published a study in Pediatrics that found that white noise machines would produce enough sound to exceed allowable noise limits for adults if played through the night at maximum levels.
Some researchers have also raised concerns that white noise exposure in infancy may result in auditory processing disorders in adulthood.
So, on the one hand, white noise machines can make babies fall asleep faster. On the other hand, they can cause serious damage to the sensitive ears of infants. Does this mean that you should toss it if you have a white noise machine in your home?
What is White Noise?
Just as white light is a combination of multiple spectrums and colors, white noise is created by multiple frequencies. The result is a low-pitched steady hum or buzz, which many people find comforting. Aside from specialized white noise machines, other examples of white noise include fans, air conditioners, air purifiers, refrigerators, and so on.
There are also multiple white noise apps on both Android and iOS.
White noise has been held up to improve focus, improve the quality and duration of sleep, and reduce anxiety in adolescents and adults. For infants, they can be taught to associate white noise with sleeping or using it to self-soothe. Some people become so accustomed to hearing white noise during rest periods that they become more alert in the absence of it.
Can White Noise Really Cause Hearing Loss?
The short answer is that we don’t know. Unfortunately, except for the 2014 study, there hasn’t yet been a great deal of research into the long-term effects of white noise on hearing health. Still, it’s not particularly difficult to connect the dots.
White noise machines can put out sound well in excess of 50 dB. Babies and young children are significantly more sensitive to noise than older children and adults. Whether or not there’s definitive proof, the risk is still there.
As such, harm reduction is your best course of action. Avoid using white noise machines if possible. And if your infant requires white noise to sleep, keep the machine on its lowest setting and a safe distance from the crib.
If you can avoid using a white noise machine, however, do so. Some infants simply don’t need it. And trying to force it will only lead to problems down the line.
About the Author:
Dr. Renee Flanagan is the Director of Audiological Care at HearingPlanet. She works with the training and development of Hearing Care staff so they may help the hearing impaired population by following best in class hearing healthcare practices.