Why devices that produce ‘white noise’ are not as harmless as you might think

Why devices that produce ‘white noise’ are not as harmless as you might think
Why devices that produce ‘white noise’ are not as harmless as you might think

Parents who rely on white noise or white noise to put their newborn baby to sleep, pay attention. The devices that make the sound can be very loud.

Pieter GordtsNovember 6, 202303:00

It’s everywhere but we hardly think about it: sound. Whether irritating or wonderfully relaxing, decibels have a much greater impact on body and life than most people suspect. That is why De Morgen is starting a major noise study together with scientists from the University of Antwerp. Anyone who lives in Flanders can participate.

Or the device her daughter used to… white noise whether producing white noise was not harmful to her grandchild’s ears? That’s what a reader wondered. To the extent that the internet is a reliable representation of this, new parents often ask themselves that question. However, the answer is not simple.

First and foremost, it is helpful to clarify what white noise is. It can perhaps best be compared to the hum of a fan. Where dance music emphasizes the bass or swelling violin music in films has mainly high tones, white noise offers all frequencies at the same volume level, says Laure Jacquemin, professor, clinical audiologist and coordinator of the tinnitus clinic (UZA). “This makes it a noise that is ideal for masking unwanted sounds.”

That is exactly why hospitals use white noise, for example in the intensive care department. If children have to spend the night, white noise helps to mask the many beeps in the ward.

“Some people with tinnitus also sometimes use white noise to help them fall asleep,” says pulmonologist and somnologist Johan Verbraecken (UZA). “White noise can mask that beep and make it more bearable.” Although that depends greatly from patient to patient. “Some prefer silence because too much noise overstimulates them,” says Jacquemin.


In general, white noise has the connotation of calming people down. Babies would recognize the rushing of the blood in the womb. At least, that is the claim of the many self-help sites that target new parents. However, no baby has been able to confirm that.

Scientists have also not yet managed to provide a clear answer to the question of whether white noise really works for better sleep. “There is very little evidence for this,” says Jacquemin. “The studies that have ever been conducted on it almost all date from the 1990s. There is often something to be said.” These studies do contain some indications that white noise can have positive effects. “There is some evidence for masking disturbing noises,” says Jacquemin. “But to now say that it is necessary to use in a quiet room: there is no evidence for that.”

Conversely, little is known about whether you could do something wrong by using white noise. If it doesn’t help, then it doesn’t do any harm? That is too short-sighted. “Such a device to produce white noise was also on our birth list,” says Jacquemin. “I was also surprised at how loud it ended up being.”

Indeed, a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that some of the devices on the market are simply too loud to place close to a baby’s ear. Both Jacquemin and Verbraecken therefore recommend keeping a close eye on two things: how loud the devices are and how long they continue to make noise. For example, if they fail after half an hour, there is little chance that hearing damage will occur in children. But if such a device plays white noise next to a baby’s ear all night, the risks increase.

Putting the white noise machine in a baby’s crib might not be a good idea. It is also best not to set that device to maximum volume. “How loud can that be? An adult person can be exposed to 85 decibels for eight hours before hearing damage occurs,” says Jacquemin. “The ear canals of babies are of course smaller and the hearing organ more sensitive. But it is difficult to put a number on that. Do you notice that it is difficult to If you raise your voice when the white noise is playing, it is best to turn it down. There is certainly no need to sound the alarm that we are all destroying our children’s ears. But some caution is required. .”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: devices produce white noise harmless


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