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Too Much Noise?

Blasting video-game sound effects, loud music, booming movie theater sound systems—repeated exposure to high-intensity sounds can be literally deafening over time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 15 percent of American children between ages 6 and 19 suffer from hearing loss, "a significant portion of which can be attributed to noise," says Holly Kaplan, Ph.D., the codirector of audiological services for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), in Rockville, MD.

Since damage to the delicate hair cells inside the ear that help us hear is irreversible and cumulative, experts stress that parents should look to prevent problems in their kids early on. Limit the use of toys with sirens or other loud sounds, and try to choose quiet toys over noisy ones when possible. Encourage kids to keep the volume on the TV, portable stereo, and radio set at medium. And have your child wear foam earplugs during any loud activity, such as watching fireworks, mowing the lawn, or attending a rock concert.

Your child may already have hearing trouble if she habitually turns up the volume on the TV or stereo and frequently asks others to repeat themselves. Because even a slight hearing loss makes it hard to pick out individual sounds—like the teacher's voice in a noisy classroom—kids may lag behind in school if problems go undetected. "A child may be accused of being inattentive or thought to be learning-disabled, when what you're really dealing with is hearing loss," says Kaplan.

If you suspect hearing loss in your child, ask your pediatrician for a referral to an audiologist.