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White noise machines might harm infants' hearing

baby sleeping
baby sleeping
Getty images

If your little one likes to fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean or white noise, you might want to reconsider continuing that habit.

A study published in the March 3 issue of Pediatrics reveals new research that when played at maximum levels, some soothing sound machines could exceed the noise limit recommended for infants.

Scientists played 14 unnamed infant sleep machines and at the maximum volume and tested them from three different distances.

All of the machines exceeded the 50-decibel (dBA) noise limit that hospitals follow. Three devices reached levels greater than 85 dBA from the 30 centimeter placement. If played for eight hours straight, those sounds are higher than the noise limits set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for adult workers.

Dr. Gordon B. Hughes, with the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders told the New York Times, "Unless parents are adequately warned of the danger, or the design of the machines by manufacturers is changed to be safer, then the potential for harm exists, and parents need to know about it."

Dr. Blake Papsin, otolaryngologist-in-chief at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, told USA Today that he was concerned that white noise could harm a developing brain, because infants need to hear all sounds in order to help their brains develop. He says, "Completely removing all informational content at a loud, potentially damaging level is the worst."

Parents are urged to lower the volume and move the machines more than 200 centimeters away from the infant.