Permanent damage to hearing from noise is known as noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL can come from listening to something that is too loud, positioned too close to the ears, or from listening to a sound for too long. (NIHL) might seem like something only adults who go to concerts or work around loud equipment need to worry about, but children are at risk too. And one of the hazards is something most wouldn't consider dangerous--toys.
Children's toys are not regulated for sound by the government. There is a standard for sound set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology--a non-government entity--but this standard has been challenged. First because it takes into account only recommendations made for adults by the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH). Second because the standard is based on the length of an adult arm and not a child's arm. And third because the standards assume a child will play with a toy as recommend--meaning if it has wheels why would they ever put it close to their head? Uhm, because they're kids. As Kathy Webb head of Sight & Hearing Association (SHA) points out, “This standard is unreasonable, since 50 cm is longer than the average arm length of an adult.... If you watch a child playing with a noise-producing toy you will see them hold it close to their face, next to their ears, which is much closer than a child's arm's length, which is approximately 10 inches (25 cm)”
Why make such a big deal about how far the toy is from the child? It's because how loud something sounds is only one thing to consider with a child's toy. The other is how close the sound is held to the ears. As an early article on PHB points out, "when it comes to sound it's helpful to remember the three D's--decibel, distance, and dose (length of time listened to)."
How can something as innocent as a toy damage hearing? Well, inside the ear are delicate hair cells that bend or break when exposed to damaging sound levels. Anything over 85 decibels (dB) is considered a hazard. Decibel is a way to determine the loudness of a sound. The higher the number, the higher the sound. The thing about decibels that parents need to understand is that each three decibel increase doubles the chance for injury to the ear. So how can you tell if your child's toy is too loud? Well, if it sounds too loud to you, chances are it is too loud. In addition, SHA has released it's list of dangerously loud toys. Among them is a toy that can permanently damage a child's hearing in fifteen minutes.
But what if you already have loud toys in your home? Well, here's a short list on how you can make loud toys safer:
1. Muffle-Covering a speaker with an age appropriate material can muffle sounds that are too loud. Be sure to make sure the material is non-toxic and if using duct tape make sure it can't be removed by the child.
2. Disable it--Believe it or not many toys are just as fun without the ear-piercing sounds. In fact, many parents find they're even funner without the noise. So don't feel bad about taking out the batteries of your child's toys.
3. Dump it--Some toys are just too loud and need to be thrown away or if possible recycled.
4. Set Standards--Warn family and friends that you're on the lookout for loud toys, so that they can make better choices when it comes to purchasing your children toys. Explaining the dangers to others will help spread the word on the dangers of loud toys.
In addition to loud toys, if you have kids that listen to tablets or computers through headphones, you should also be aware that it's not just toys that can be too loud. Music and videos piped in through headphones pose a real hazard to hearing. Many kids are online and listening to games or videos through dangerous earbuds or headphones. Some researchers suggest children and teens, on average, listen to electronic media for over seven hours a day. So investing in headphones that have a volume limit is a great idea, but as this Wirecutter article points out, some headphones make claims on noise limits that aren't accurate. This is an unnecessarily long article, so skip to the end for the list of headphones that work well.
Nothing beats a regular visit to an audiologistto help keep your child's hearing health, so make sure to see your hearing health provider sooner rather than later. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!