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September 12th, 2014 | Ask an Audiologist | by Tracy Saunders

Ask an Audiologist – White Noise Machines

White noise machines generate sounds like wind blowing or a rushing waterfall. There are a wide variety of brand names on the market and their uses vary and include: audio testing equipment, sound masking products and as sleep-aid devices. In the question to our Audiologist below, one person wants to know if these machines can cause hearing loss over time, particulary for her friend’s small children. Hearing Solutions Audiologist and Trainer, Tracy Saunders gets to the bottom of this inquiry.

Ask an Audiologist…

My friend has 3 children aged 2, 6 and 7. She puts on a white noise machine every night for them to go to sleep and leaves it on all night. It sounds quite loud to me for sleeping, but my concern is whether that constant noise will affect the children’s hearing, especially since it’s been used for such a long time.

Audiologist Response…

My name is Tracy Saunders and I am an Audiologist with Hearing Solutions. This is a very fitting question for me! I actually have a two year old and we use a white noise machine every night and also during naps.

Young children can’t read clocks, so many experts believe that the on/off of a white noise machine may help children understand when it is time to sleep. The white noise has also been described as soothing to children and can help drown out any background noise. Of course, the louder it is, the less background noise will be heard, which is why some parents turn it up LOUD.

Loud sound machines pose two risks, in my opinion:

  1. Children should learn to hear and ignore some background noise while sleeping. It is an important skill to learn.
  2. Most important – loud sound machines can absolutely lead to Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). Eight hours (a work day) of exposure to 85dB noise puts one at risk for hearing loss. Sound machines are capable of sounds louder than 85dB. It is very important to have the sound machine at a low volume and far away from the child. Sound volume decreases with distance. So, a sound that comes out of the sound machine at X dB, may have been reduced to X/4 dB by the time it reaches the child’s ear.

I realize that the easiest answer is not to use sound machines at all. But that advice may not be practical for some. For people (such as myself) that do believe sound machines can help improve a child’s quality/quantity of sleep, I would insist on the low volume/far away strategy.

Best regards,

Tracy Saunders, M.Cl.Sc., Reg. CASLPO

Tracy Saunders is a registered Audiologist with the College of Audiologists and Speech Language Pathologists of Ontario. She holds a Master’s Degree in Audiology from the University of Western Ontario and an Honours Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Toronto. Tracy is currently working as an audiologist and trainer at Hearing Solutions.

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