A hearing child is a happy child.

Children who hear well are best equipped to develop their language and communication ability during the crucial first couple of years. To this end, it is very important to prevent noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), an adverse treatment which unfortunately affects more than 10% of kids in the age group from 6 to 19 in the United States.

Excessive noise can damage our sense of hearing by damaging the sensitive hair cells in our ear ear which are responsible for converting sound in to electrical signals. The bad news is that this damage can be permanent, and potentially has a large impact on the development of affected children for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, we can protect our children from NIHL by not exposing them to excessive noise, and make then wear good ear muffs whenever they attend noisy events.

When does sound become dangerous? The higher the intensity of a sound, the shorter the time before it becomes damaging. Normal household noises such as chat and laughter, food processors, and vacuum cleaners tend to be safe even if a person is exposed to them for a long time. However, already the exposure to the noise of common power tools such as drills becomes potentially dangerous after 10 minutes. The average rock concert, motor sport race, or speed boat can damage a child's ear in less than 2 minutes. Some sounds like gun shots, fireworks at a close distance, and jet planes can immediately inflict damage on the ear's hair cells and the auditory nerve.

Yes, high energy outdoor sports events, music festivals, air shows and firework displays are great fun – but I strongly recommend that you get a good fitting pair of ear muffs for kids before you think about bringing your child along. Make sure you adjust, and try the ear muffs in advance, so your child is already using to them and the ear muffs provide proper protection. A good opportunity to test them is yard work such as lawn mowing.

What if you have a sudden need for protection but no ear muffs at hand? Put some disposable ear plugs in your car's glove box or your purse. Properly inserted ear plugs can provide a protection level comparable to ear muffs. They have a few disadvantages though, which make them not really suitable for long-term use. First of all, it is not that easy to insert them properly and they need to fit to be effective. Also, younger children tend to find them uncomfortable and might not like to wear them. Finally, since they go directly into the ear they can potentially cause allergic reactions and infections if they are not kept clean.

While ear plugs can be an effective short-term solution, ear muffs should be your first choice. Once adjusted, they can be put on in seconds, are really easy to clean, and provide protection by covering the complete ear. Also, most children tend to find them quite comfortable and even treat them as a friend after getting used to them. Let you child choose his or her own color.