Back-to-School: Noisy schools and hearing damage

    Consumer Reports News: September 01, 2010 12:09 AM

    We recently reported on a new study published in (PDF download) The Journal of the American Medical Association, which concluded that 1 in 5 teenagers suffers some level of hearing loss. The incidence of hearing loss among adolescents jumped 31 percent between 1994 and 2006. That's disturbing indeed.  

    Some suggest that portable music players (iPods and the like) are to blame. But since exposure to loud noise can have a cumulative affect on hearing loss, it's hard to pinpoint the culprits. We live in a noisy world, but few people realize that noise exposure is a serious safety hazard. And schools are a part of the problem.

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    School cafeteria noise is of particular concern. Experts who have measured the din in school cafeterias report that it ranges from a level akin to a bathroom shower to that of a walk-behind lawn mower at the operator's ear. Cafeterias can get loud enough to cause hearing damage and can cross the threshold above which we recommend hearing protection. 

    YackerTracker One device that can help keep school noise in check is the Yacker Tracker, available online. It's like a traffic light that flashes a yellow warning light when the noise starts to get too loud, and a red light and siren when it exceeds a set threshold. That will prompt the mean lunch lady to get the kids to quiet down. (We have read some complaints that blasting a siren is hardly a reasonable way to achieve a quieter lunchroom; some schools have turned the siren off and just rely on the light.) 

    Although we haven't tested the device, a colleague who saw a Yacker Tracker in action said it works well. It might be worth asking your school administrators or PTA to invest in one of these devices. 

    But cafeteria noise isn't the only cause for concern. Les Blomberg of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse referred me to a section of his website that deals with classroom noise.  Among his resources is a (PDF download) report by Arline Bronzaft, Ph. D., who advises the New York City mayor's office on noise issues. She studied the effect of classroom noise on learning ability; her conclusion was that quiet classrooms enrich the learning the experience. She told us she wishes that teachers would realize that blasting a sound or using a megaphone is the wrong way to quiet students.

    For more on preventing noise-induced hearing loss, check these blog posts:

    Protect your ears from noise.  

    Headphones could hasten hearing loss. 

    Hear ye, hear ye:  Time to turn down that iPod.

    A caution about kids and MP3 players.

    iPods and headphones: The gift of deafness? 

    —Don Mays

    See our previous posts on school safetyNext up: teaching kids to use the Internet safely.

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