Hand Dryers Can Hurt Kids’ Ears

Ron Middleton Hearing Health

Ron Middleton

The times when we are exposed to extreme noise are undeniable. If you have ever stepped out of a loud concert, nightclub, or even a sporting event, you likely noticed just how quiet the surrounding world was in contrast. Your hearing might have even seemed to be muffled, or you might have heard an immediate ringing in your ears. 

In any of these cases, the contrast between a quiet environment and the extremely loud event might have made you worry about hearing damage. Indeed, when faced with an obviously loud sound we are more likely to wear hearing protection or to limit our exposure. Industrial or manufacturing workplaces are notorious for the hearing risks they pose, and employers should be stepping up with the protective gear and limited times of exposure to minimize hearing loss. 

However, these overwhelmingly loud sites are not the only hearing risks in our lives. Although we are more likely to wear hearing protection when the environment is obviously loud, everyday noise can also be a hidden risk for hearing loss. Machines such as lawnmowers and other household machinery or power tools can be risky, but one very young scientist discovered another hearing risk that often goes unnoticed: hand dryers. 

Childhood Noise Aversion

In order to get a sense of the damaging quality of hand dryers, this young scientist considered those who have the greatest sensitivity to noise. In the paper titled, “Children who say hand dryers ‘hurt my ears’ are correct: A real-world study examining the loudness of automated hand dryers in public places” published in the Canadian journal Pediatrics & Child Health, Nora Louse Keegan delivered the results of her study of childhood noise exposure. 

Keegan was speaking from personal experience with hand dryers. As a 13-year-old young person, she remembered experiences when she shied away from using a hand dryer. She found that sometimes her ears were ringing after using a hand dryer, and she witnessed other children who didn’t want to use them. 

At only 9 years of age, Keegan began her experiment regarding the effect of hand dryer noise on youth hearing. She traveled to 40 public hand dryers in Alberta, Canada and measured the decibel reading in those locations. By placing the reading at various heights and directions, she was able to capture a sample of what others might experience at the level of their ears. 

Children were at a particular risk, because they have ears that are closer to the dryer itself in many instances. The results pointed to a few models of hand dryers that consistently projected 100 decibels of sound, sufficient to damage hearing with extended exposure. The loudest measurement was 121 decibels, well beyond the 100 decibel limit imposed by the Canadian government on children’s toys. Keegan did not only present her findings at a science fair, but she got in touch with the manufacturers of these loud units and discussed the ways that their damaging effects might be attenuated. 

Youth Hearing Loss

Although exposure to hand dryer noise would need to be extended in order to create permanent damage, young people are posed with more noise than older generations. One of the primary causes of youth hearing loss is categorized as “recreational” or “leisure” noise exposure. Whether in the form of earbuds, headphones, loud home audio, or concerts, young people are subjecting themselves to more noise than ever. 

The results of hearing tests are coming back with results that indeed young people have higher rates of hearing loss than the generations that came before them. Although hearing loss has been a common experience among older people who have been exposed to sound for nearly a lifetime, young people have historically had much less noise exposure and preserved their hearing ability for longer in their lives. 

When exposure to recreational noise is added to the many sounding objects in urban settings and technologically assisted lives, these young generations may have even more challenges with hearing loss later in life. For these reasons, not only is hearing protection essential but companies can take measures to develop products that limit noise production, as well. Just as the hand dryer in the bathroom, other household items can be designed with nose attenuation in mind.  

If you are concerned about your hearing abilities, contact us today to schedule an appointment!