Almost as far back as there have been hearing-damaging noises, there have been ear protectors designed to prevent them. The history of ear muffs dates back at least as far as World War 2 when military pilots wore leather flaps over their ears to protect them from losing their hearing from exposure to loud engine sounds. Over the years, new technologies eventually molded this early ear protection attempt into the more-comfortable banded ear muffs and in-ear plugs that we know today.
We understand many of the reasons for adults to wear ear protectors. At construction sites, rock concerts, and other work-related situations, it makes sense to use some type of hearing protection. Why then would our children, and specifically infants, require this type of protection? We aren’t exactly taking our babies onto construction sites or to rock concerts…until we are. There are a number of reasons why a working caregiver would need to expose their child to hearing-detrimental noise and sometimes this decision is taken away from the parents. The city jackhammering a pothole right outside your home or the brand-new fire station at the end of your block might not have been something you agreed to upon moving in.
There are also the concerns of children with special needs including those on the autism spectrum or those with sensory processing disorders. For these little ones, sounds that might be nothing more than background or ambient noise for us can be overwhelming and frightening. Ear protectors can allow a child who is frightened by loud sounds to visit Santa for the first time because they aren’t scared of the sounds from the crowds. They can help an autistic child focus better on their schoolwork because they aren’t being bothered by the sounds of the electric lights or water pipes in their classroom.
Adults hear in a very narrow range of sounds. This has been whittled down over the years through a combination of selective hearing and damage. Infants do not have such a limited range. They are better at hearing sounds in a variety of decibels and detecting multiple frequencies better than adults. Infants ears and brains are also not fully developed which can allow them to be damaged easier and to develop hearing loss more quickly than adults when exposed to the same level of noise. OSHA recommends that adults limit their exposure to sounds over 85 decibels whereas pediatricians state that 80 decibels of sound over several hours are enough to cause damage to your child’s ears. Even seemingly innocuous objects like electric tools and fireworks exceed these numbers, making it essential to provide your infant with extra protection.
Purchasing the right ear protection for your child can be confusing, especially when the terms are so interchangeable. On this list alone you may see ear protectors referred to as ear muffs or ear defenders. So what’s the difference? Earmuffs were the original term for any device worn over the ears to protect them from the cold or loud noises. Ear protectors or ear defenders came in the late 1800s to differentiate between the fluffy earmuffs we know today that protect only against the cold and the harder, more hearing-related protection designed to prevent hearing loss. Some noise-canceling headphones can also provide a modicum of hearing protection as well. In modern society, earmuffs protect against the cold, ear protectors stop loud noises, and headphones play music.
We have gathered a selection of ear protectors in a variety of sizes, styles, and protection levels to meet a plethora of needs. Whether your little one needs temporary relief from an external annoyance or long-term assistance for special needs, we hope that one of our 10 Best Baby Ear Defenders will keep your little one’s ears hearing every whisper we wish they wouldn’t for years to come!
The Best Best Baby Ear Defenders & Protection Muffs Reviewed in 2018
Criteria Used in Evaluation of the Best Baby Ear Defenders & Protection Muffs
Protecting your baby’s hearing is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure a strong and healthy baby. Hearing loss is quite common for today’s children and causes of hearing loss varies. Loud music, exposure to machinery, and even toys that are sound-equipped can negatively affect a child’s hearing. For the hearing loss to be imminent, the child has to be exposed to the loud sounds on a continuous and consistent basis. If they are listening to loud music non-stop at a rate of four hours or more a day, it can affect the child’s hearing and the same applies to other loud noises the child is surrounded by on a continuous and consistent basis.
For babies, however, it doesn’t have to take four hours for their hearing to be negatively impacted. Babies can hear noises at much higher decibels than school-aged children and high-pitched noise can rattle their little delicate ears and destroy the sensory cells in their ears. Toys can be the biggest culprit of this as sound-equipped toys can exceed 100 decibels (dB) and since little ones have the tendency to place toys close to their ears, the damage can be imminent and irreversible.
When choosing ear protectors for your baby, there are quite a few factors to consider such as the strength of the hearing protection, the comfortability, the fit of the ear defenders, and the safety of the material. Some ear defenders such as earplugs can’t be used for babies as the baby’s ear canal is too small to insert an earplug and the earplug itself is a potential choking hazard to the baby. Therefore, the best choice for babies’ hearing protection are earmuffs that fit over the head and ears.
Unfortunately, not every earmuff is created equally as some are made for school-aged children but are repackaged for babies and could possibly cause damage to the baby’s head and neck as the school-aged earmuffs are too heavy and bulky for the baby. Another issue is the material because some earmuffs are metal-based which can cause discomfort and pain for the baby and some are crafted from unsafe and toxic materials which could possibly poison the baby through their delicate skin. Lastly, some earmuffs have very poor acoustic foam in the ear cups to help attenuate the sound and some ear cups do not provide proper coverage, cushioning or proper fitting on the ear.
In our criteria, we judged ear defenders by their ability to provide hearing protection, comfortability, and safety with a few key other factors.
The Strength of Hearing Protection
Sound is measured in decibels (dB) and ear defenders come in various levels of sound protection from low-level protection (outside activities, school activities) to high-level protection (concerts, power tools). Most ear defenders are made to be used for up to eight hours but some are made for only four hours. Ear defenders provide protection from sound by using acoustic foam which helps to absorb the sound waves which in turn, reduces any sound discomfort for a baby’s sensitive hearing. The best ear defenders have the greatest noise-reduction rating.
Since ear defenders fall under the category of personal protective equipment (PPE), the majority of ear defenders are usually made from metal or hard plastic (particularly the headband area) which could be quite uncomfortable for babies. Therefore, ear defenders for babies need to have cushioning to keep the baby’s head and ears free of discomfort. The best ear defenders for babies have a curved headband (usually padded) to help evenly distribute the ear defenders weight and pressure and prevent headaches.
Ear defenders are crafted from metal or plastic and can contain dyes for the various designs on the ear defenders body and acoustic foam; acoustic foam is usually treated with flame retardant as well. While no ear defenders for babies that are without these material ingredients have been discovered, the ear defenders on our list are specifically crafted for babies and are proven to be made with the highest standards of safety in mind. A few of the ear defenders are BPA-free and eco-friendly.
Size and Fit
A baby’s head is small, delicate and continuously growing. The ear defender needs to be able to fit the baby’s head without being too large to create bulk or too small to create tightness. The fitting of the ear defenders has to be adjustable so it can grow with the baby’s developing skull. If the headband of the ear defender is non-adjustable or is a snug fabric, it has to fit evenly across the baby’s head and be lightweight enough to prevent unnecessary molding.
The stability of the ear defender is very important. The ear defender has to be able to sit on the baby’s head without slipping off, sliding off or be easily pulled off by the baby. This also includes the construction of the ear defender as it has to be strong and sturdily built to withstand any activity so it will not break, crack or fall apart easily. It also has to help keep the baby’s head stable as the baby develops their neck strength and learns how to hold their own head up.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are ear defenders?
A: Ear defenders are an analog, manual object to help protect an individual’s hearing from loud and harsh sounds for up to eight hours or more. They can also be known as earmuffs and ear defender products marketed towards babies and children are usually listed as earmuffs.
Q: What are the different types of ear defenders?
A: There is quite a variety of ear defenders but the most common are the earmuffs and earplugs. Earmuffs are the products on our ear defenders list and earplugs are made to be inserted into the ear canals but are not a smart option for babies.
Q: Where can ear defenders be worn?
A: Ear defenders can be worn wherever there are loud noises that your baby will be exposed to for long periods of time. The best places to wear ear defenders are sports games, concerts and festivals.
Q: How can ear defenders help my baby’s hearing?
A: Acoustic foam that is placed within the ear cups is used to help with noise reduction. It doesn’t block the sound but it helps to reduce the strength of the sound waves by absorbing the waves. Therefore, your baby will still hear the noise but it will be soft and light against their delicate little ears while using ear defenders.
Q: What noises can ear defenders protect against?
A: Low-level noises such as normal conversations and high-level noises such as machinery. Ear defenders can also help defend against high decibel (dB) noises such as thunderclaps and toys that emit a lot of high-pitch interactive sounds.
Q: Why should I purchase ear defenders?
A: You should purchase ear defenders to protect your baby’s very sensitive hearing. One in eight children is diagnosed with hearing loss from typical, common things such as loud crowd gatherings, loud music, and loud tools. If your baby will be exposed to such loud sounds at continuous hours then it is best to invest in ear defenders.
Q: Is there a difference between ear defenders and earmuffs?
A: Yes and no. When people hear the word earmuffs, they think of the soft fabric material that is used during the winter to protect ears from cold, damp weather. In discussions of hearing protection (workplace safety for example) the word earmuffs is used in exchange with ear defenders and ear defenders are sometimes marketed as earmuffs. Since ear defenders sit on the head and cover the ears, they can be considered earmuffs based on their design.
Q: Do ear protectors defend against the weather?
A: While ear protectors may prevent loud noises associated with storms such as high wind and thunderclaps from damaging your child’s hearing, the ear protectors themselves are not designed to protect their ears or skin from damaging temperatures or weather conditions such as rain or snow. For these cases, a pair of earmuffs or a hat worn on top of the ear protectors would be advisable.
Q: Ear protectors or headphones? What’s the difference?
A: Ear protectors are designed specifically to block out loud ambient noises that can damage your baby’s sensitive hearing. They do not provide any sound on their own. Headphones are designed to transmit music or other sounds from an audio device to your child’s ears. Volume-limiting headphones can be an ideal way to distract your child from other loud noises that may frighten or overwhelm them and some headphones are designed to block external noise as well, functioning in a similar manner to ear protectors. To prevent hearing damage, ear protectors are the best choice. To protect your child from a stimulus that may be overwhelming them, especially in the case of autistic or special needs children, noise-canceling headphones can provide a focus for their attention while also protecting them from external sound.