Premature infant responses to noise reduction by earmuffs: effects on behavioral and physiologic measures

J Perinatol. 1995 Nov-Dec;15(6):448-55.


The continuous high-intensity noise in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is both stressful and harmful for the premature infant. Although some researchers have found evidence that loud noise can cause hearing loss and alter physiologic and behavioral responses, no study to date has investigated the benefits of noise reduction by the use of earmuffs. In this study earmuffs were placed over the premature infants' ears to reduce noise intensity in the NICU while physiologic and behavioral responses were measured. Two sites were used to collect data: in the first setting, 17 low birth weight infants were randomly assigned to an experimental and a control group, whereas 13 infants from a second hospital acted as their own controls and were tested with and without earmuffs. Earmuffs that reduced the intensity of noise by 7 to 12 dB were worn by infants in the experimental group only during the observation periods. Infants in the control group were exposed to the usual noise in the NICU. The infant's physiologic and behavioral responses were observed for four 2-hour intervals, morning and evening, on two consecutive days. Most of the significant results were from the site at which infants acted as their own controls. When infants wore the earmuffs, they had significantly higher mean oxygen saturation levels and less fluctuation in oxygen saturation. Furthermore, these infants had less frequent behavioral state changes, spent more time in the quiet sleep state, and had longer bouts in the sleep state. It is imperative that NICUs develop aggressive antinoise policies to substantially and consistently reduce noise.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Ear Protective Devices*
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced / prevention & control
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Infant Behavior / physiology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Male
  • Noise / adverse effects*
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Respiration