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Ask the Pediatrician: How does noise affect children?

Sophie J. Balk, MD, FAAP, American Academy of Pediatrics on

Published in Health & Fitness

Many parents know that loud noise can hurt a child's hearing. Very loud sounds—from fireworks or firearms, for example—can cause immediate damage. Using personal listening devices for music, videos and classes can also cause damage if they're too loud.

But we are also learning that too-noisy environments can have harmful effects that go beyond hearing.

Environmental noise—also known as "noise pollution"—comes from sources around us. These include road traffic, airplanes and airports, trains and wind farms. Indoor sources of noise such as TVs and appliances also can be too loud.

Environmental noise is less likely to cause hearing problems than loud noise from personal devices and activities such as concerts, sports games, dances and celebrations. Still, environmental noise can have harmful effects on children's learning, behavior and sleep.

Compared to adults, children may be more vulnerable to noise effects because they are growing and developing. They may also have less control over where they spend time. Children living in less wealthy environments are more likely to be exposed to higher environmental noise levels.

Environmental noise can affect children’s learning, such as in too noisy classrooms and child care settings.

 

Reading, remembering and doing well on tests can be difficult when there is too much background noise or noisy conversations. Planes flying overhead can make it hard to understand what the teacher is saying. Teachers may need to interrupt lessons to wait for planes to pass. Feeling annoyed by noise can cause kids to lose focus on lessons.

Also, for infants and children learning how to talk, a noisy environment can make it harder for them to understand speech.

Environmental noise can also influence how children play, which is important for their development. Many children are exposed to background noise from TVs left on even if the child isn't actively watching. When TVs are left on, babies and toddlers don't focus as much or as long on playing with toys.

Noise often interferes with sleep. According to the World Health Organization, millions of people suffer worse sleep caused by nighttime noise from road traffic and other sources. Research done mainly in adults shows that even low levels of nighttime environmental noise cause more body movements, awakenings and other sleep disturbances. These happen even though the sleeping person is not aware of them. Poor sleep can cause daytime sleepiness and affect children's learning.

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