Red, White and BOOM: How Fireworks Affect Hearing

For most Americans, Independence Day includes many of the same traditions: cookouts, family get-togethers, parades, and stories about how our freedom was won. Typically the day’s events end with fireworks. For many, a fireworks display allows us time to sit and watch in awe as we see colors light up the sky to the tunes of Francis Scott Key and John Phillip Sousa. However, if you have children, fireworks are surrounded by discussions of, “Should we take the kids this year?” and, “Do you think they’ll be scared?”  But how often do you wonder, “Will the loud sounds from the fireworks damage my child’s hearing”?

Damage to hearing can occur from sudden, loud sounds such as fireworks as well as repeated exposure to loud sounds over a period of time.  The damage you experience from loud sounds is permanent, yet entirely preventable. In order to keep your ears and your children’s ears safe this Independence Day – there are a few things you should know.

A decibel (dB) is a way that sound is measured. The larger the decibel number – the louder the sound that is being measured. A whisper is measured around 15dB.  Normal conversation takes place around 45-55 dB. Sound begins to become dangerous around 85dB.  Fireworks create sound around the 150+ dB range. (Yikes! But before you cancel your trip to your local fireworks celebration, read on.)

  • The distance between you, your children and the fireworks is critical to keeping ears safe. The greater the distance between you and the set-off area, the safer your ears (and a whole lot of other body parts!) will be.
  • Invest in some good hearing protection for your family. Using hearing protection can also help answer your other concern with fireworks – if your child’s hearing is protected, your child will most likely be less frightened by the loud sounds.  There are different types of hearing protection you can use, from small foam earplugs to larger cushioned headphones that sit over the entire ear.  If you have questions about hearing protection or safety around loud noises, you can always contact the Audiology Department at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of a problem. If your child complains of a ringing or buzzing noise, experiences pain in the ears, is unable to hear you talking from less  than 3 feet away, or is having trouble understanding because words or sounds seem muffled, it’s time to check in with your doctor.

There are many safety concerns you must consider when having children around fireworks. If you follow all the do’s and don’ts AND consider safe sound as part of the list – you will have a fun, SAFE Independence Day. Happy 4th of July!

Gina Hounam, PhD
Gina Hounam is a member of the Audiology Department at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She moved to Columbus in 2011 to begin her journey at Nationwide Children’s – but her heart was in Columbus long before that as she is a graduate of The Ohio State University. Gina received a B.A. in Speech and Hearing Science in 1998 at OSU and then went to the University of Cincinnati for her M.A. and PhD in Audiology. Her professional interests include relationship-centered care, community outreach, newborn hearing screenings and hearing aids. Gina’s personal interests focus mainly on her boys’ club, including her husband of 9 years and her two little boys ages 3 and 17 months. As an avid dog lover, Gina also enjoys time with the only other girl in the home, their Golden Retriever Sydney Bella.

2 thoughts on “Red, White and BOOM: How Fireworks Affect Hearing

  1. Hello, how far away do you have to stand from fireworks when lighting them in your backyard to protect hearing? I have read 5 meters for consumer fireworks. I was standing 7 meters from them last night at our fourth of july party and my ears are ringing. VERY CONCERNED.

    1. Nationwide Children's Hospital on said:

      Matt- one of our audiologists, Gina Hounam, provided us with this information: “The safe distance between a person’s ears and an explosive really depends on the level of sound coming from the explosive. Generally speaking I think 15-20 meters is a fairly standard and safe recommendation. However, in any case, if your ears are ringing following loud noise exposure, it is important to have your ears checked by an audiologist or ear specialist, such as an ENT. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, can be indicative of traumatic noise exposure and should be evaluated if you are concerned.” Hope this helps!

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