It’s not often that a middle schoolers’ science project actually makes it into a scientific or medial journal, but such is the case for 13-year-old student Nora Keegan from Calgary, Canada. Keegan’s science project, an investigation on whether or not hand dryers found in bathrooms caused hearing loss in children, was recently published in the Pediatrics & Child Health journal. The study questions whether or not hand dryers pose as a risk to ear health, particularly in children, and shows that the machines can cause hearing loss because they operate at levels that are far louder than recommended.

Hearing, Health & Hand Dryers

Hand dryers have been replacing hand towels in bathrooms for years now, with the technology becoming more advanced over the last couple of years. Products like the Dyson Airblade promise to dry hands in seconds without using much electricity, which has long been the concern for replacing one environmental issue with another. However, a question of whether or not the products are safe and effective have come up in recent years—particularly in regard to whether the machines actually expose hands to more germs than they would be exposed to without washing them at all. Researchers found that hand dryers like the Dyson Airblade in particular created more exposure to germs because water from hands drips down into the machine, and is then pushed back up through the air, spreading germs.

However those same hand dryers are found to be unhealthy in other ways, as Keegan’s science project revealed that they also operate at decibel levels that put users at risk of developing hearing damage from exposure to the noise that they emit. “Many public washrooms have hand dryers instead of paper towels. Informally, parents have said that their children refuse to go into particular washrooms because the dryers are too noisy, and children say they ‘hurt my ears’. Previous research has shown that hand dryers are much louder in real life than in sound testing laboratories,” reads Keegan’s intro, which was published in the Pediatrics & Child Health journal.

Hand Dryers Found To Cause Hearing Damage In Children

Keegan studied the effects and decibel emissions of hand dryers around Calgary for a year to determine whether or not they operate at safe levels for children. While Canada does put a limit to how loud toys and other products can be, hand dryer companies often fly under the radar by disclosing how loud their products are after testing in a facility. Additionally, they don’t often reveal exactly how they determine sound levels, as Keegan found throughout her report. Over the course of the year, Keegan found that many of the products actually revealed to be operating at a higher dBa (the symbol for decibel levels) than the companies reported. In many cases, these levels were higher than Canada allowed for things like toys.

Canada allows 100 dBa for things like toys before the product is at risk for contributing to hearing loss. Keegan found, throughout her study, that many of the hand dryers that she tested operated above that limit. Many operated at 121 dBa, which is considered a level that would create hearing loss in adults—much less children. Keegan also found that many companies reported that the products are safe for adult ears, but left out that children’s ears are much more susceptible to damage than full-grown adults.