Your child’s blaringly loud toy might be more than just aggravating. It could be harming their hearing. Unlike other aspects of toys, sound level is not regulated in the United States and manufacturers are not required to follow even basic safety standards when it comes to noise.
Some toys create noises in excess of 120 decibels—a measurement of sound. That’s louder than the siren from an ambulance. Sounds greater than 85 db listened to for more than fifteen minutes can cause hearing loss, so it seems unbelievable that some toys have been measured at 129 db. That’s not even reasonably safe as each increase of ten means it’s ten times more damaging. These explosively loud sounds create greater difficulties when listened to for longer periods or at closer distances—as children are known to do.
The admonition, “Too loud, too long, too close” is used by the National Institute of Health to create awareness around the only preventable type of hearing loss—noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). Government programs and campaigns raise awareness, but without regulations it’s up to parents to guard their children’s hearing.
How does noise induced damage to hearing happen? Inside the ear are small, delicate hairs that conduct sounds. Injury to these hair cells comes from exposure, sudden or prolonged, to loud noises. This can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss. Toys that talk—pretend phones, talking dolls, toy-computers, walkie-talkies, toy tools that produce realistic work sounds, toys that produce sirens or whistles are just a few of the dangers. The Sight & Hearing Association posts a list of dangerously loud toys each year. If you’re concerned about loud toys follow these tips:
1.Cover the speaker. Using age-appropriate material, duct tape or clothe, to cover the speaker can muffle the sounds.
2.Take out the batteries. Taking out the batteries can eliminate dangerous sounds, especially if they are replaced by a child’s imagination.
3.Discard or recycle toys that are irredeemably loud. In some cases, there is no way to make a noisy toy safe. These toys should be discarded or if possible recycled.
4.Before purchasing any toy, listen to the sound. If it’s loud enough to make you uncomfortable in the toy aisle, it is not something you want in your home.
5.Make your family and friends aware of your concerns. Often times it is the toy bought by a grandparent or a well-meaning friend that can make the most noise. Explaining the dangers to others will help keep dangerous toys out of your house, and away from your child—who might not understand why you are taking away their new toy.
6.Birthday Reminders: Remind parents of the dangers of loud sounds when you are sending out birthday invitations. A simple, but effective note that says, “Help protect our child’s hearing. Please don’t purchase overly loud toys! Thank you!”
Regular visits to an audiologist-- like visits to an eye doctor will help children keep their hearing fitness. Let’s spread the word about this issue. It’s time to make people aware of the third largest health problem in the nation—hearing loss and all the noisy culprits that could be lurking in your child’s toy-box right now.