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Toys Dangerous to Children's Hearing: Purchase with Caution

Tis the season. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, the tree is up and decorated and the plans for Christmas dinner are all set. So what’s left?

Oh, that’s right – Christmas shopping. And each year, consumer groups report their individual dangerous toys list – toys that have small parts that present a choking hazard, toys that are slathered in lead paint and toxic chemicals. Like all good parents we heed these warnings and choose toys that are both fun and safe.

Or do we?

Sure, you look for those small, dangerous pieces that could be swallowed, and you listen to the warnings of lead paint and other toxins in our children’s toys. But do you ever consider how loud some toys and other gifts are? Do you consider the hearing loss that can occur from toys that may be too loud (and annoying) to you but are favorites of your kids? Not many of us do.

Hearing Loss and Children

Hearing loss in children

The hearing mechanism in humans is complex, sensitive and delicate. It’s easily damaged by exposure to loud noise for both adults and children; however, children’s ears are especially sensitive to loud noise.

Children’s ears are smaller in size, especially the ear canals which funnel sound down to the eardrum. Going back to Acoustics 101, a smaller tube (like the ear canal) will produce a higher sound pressure as sound enters it. Thus a sound reaching an adult and a child will actually be louder for the child since the sound pressure is increased due to their smaller ear canals.

The bottom line is excessively loud noise can cause hearing loss is both children and adults – children are more susceptible to it. Experts say noise-induced hearing loss is on the rise for adults and children despite the fact that noise-induced hearing loss is the only type of nerve hearing loss that can be prevented.

Unfortunately we are not always aware of all of the various noise sources in our environment that have the potential to cause permanent damage to our hearing. Many sources are ones we would never dream of being dangerous – like children’s toys.

Each year various consumer groups test and identify toys that should be avoided due to excessive noise output. So, before heading out to the mall on your next shopping excursion, consider how loud a toy is before making a purchase. It’s just not about small pieces and lead paint any more. It’s also about protecting your child’s hearing.

Sound Levels and Playthings

Noise is measured in dBs, which stands for decibels. A normal conversation produces approximately 60 to 70 decibels (dB)– a safe volume at which to listen for any length of time.

So what is too loud for our hearing? Sounds measuring 85 dB or higher have the potential to cause permanent damage to our hearing, especially over a long period of time. The level of sound and the exposure time must both be considered when determining if a sound is dangerous.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) a sound measuring 85 dBA is safe for up to 8 hours (note dBA indicates a type A filter is used which most closely simulates human hearing). However a sound measuring at 100 dBA is only safe for 15 minutes! And sadly many toys measured by consumers groups this year exceeded 100 dBA – putting children at high risk for damaging their hearing within a matter of minutes of play time.

It’s important to note that the hearing mechanism, when damaged by loud noise, rarely recovers to full sound – even in youngsters. That means that kids who experience hearing loss due to loud noise at the age of seven will live their entire lives with hearing loss. And, as they age, that hearing loss may get worse organically due to the aging process, genetics or other medical conditions.

The Naughty List

Minnesota based Sight and Hearing Association released their annual Noisy Toy report. Each year the Sight and Hearing Association in conjunction with the University of Minnesota measures sound output of toys at distances that simulate the distance a child may hold a toy – directly near the ear (0 inches) and at arm’s length (10 inches).

This year’s list will shock you as many of the toys are well over the safe limit of 85 dB.

The 2009 Noisy Toy Naughty List: 

  • Iron Man Mobile Headquarters Vehicle - produces 119.5 decibels (dBA) directly at the speaker of the toy. This truck is recommended for ages four and older. According to NIOSH, this toy is safe for only 11 seconds.
  • Fisher Price Learning Letters Mailbox – produces 113.9 dBA and is recommended for children 6 months to 3 years. This toy would be safe for only 35 seconds.
  • Sesame Street Help Along Sing a Song book – produces 112.1 dBA and is recommended for an 18 month old. Safe listening time? Only 56 seconds to get this book read before potential damage. 
  • Black & Decker Junior Chainsaw – roared into 4th place producing 111.4 dBA – which is not much less than a real chainsaw. Children can enjoy a safe play time of roughly one minute before this chainsaw is hazardous to their hearing.

The list does not stop here. Testing found 19 toys to be in excess of the recommended safe levels and some of the toys are from Baby Einstein, Leap Frog and VTech – names that pride themselves on being educational.

For the complete toy list visit: Sight and Hearing’s 2009 Noisy Toy List.

Protecting Children’s Hearing

Protect from Noisy Toys
Choose toys wisely to protect their hearing

According to US Pirg, a US-based consumer advocacy group: “In March 2007, the American Society for Testing and Materials adopted a voluntary acoustics standard for toys, setting the loudness threshold for most toys at 85 decibels, and for toys intended for use “close to the ear” at 65 dB. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act made most ASTM F963-07 standards mandatory.”

Obviously toy manufacturers are not following these recommended standards since many on the Sight and Hearing's 2009 Noisy Toy list exceeded 65 dB when measured “close to the ear”.

As a consumer it is your responsibility to protect your little ones’ ears by being a smart toy consumer and reporting toys suspected of exceeding limits. So, when you’re plowing through the throngs at the mall, consider the hearing safety of any toy you purchase.

The Sight and Hearing Association recommends you take these three distinct steps before buying:

  1. Turn on the toy. Does it make a loud noise? If it hurts your ears, imagine what it’ll do to your little one’s ears. If it sounds loud to you, it is too loud for your child.
  2. Look for a volume control. Also, look for a volume on/off switch. If your child receives a welcome gift that’s too loud, place cellophane tape over the speaker to cut down on the dBs the toy pumps out.
  3. Contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission to report a loud toy. The number is (800) 638-2772. or, you can send an email to: reportatoy@sightandhearing.org. These organizations have a core mission to keep kids safe from loud noise.

The first line of defense is the parent or gift giver. Indeed, you may be aware of the dangers small parts create. They present a choking hazard. Lead paint contributes to learning disabilities and dangerous levels of toxicity. Lead doesn’t have to be consumed. It can be absorbed by the skin.

And remember, loud toys not only make bad presents under the tree but could cause bad hearing.

So, as you’re wheeling your cart up and down the toy aisles, consider the dangers any toy presents to a child. Sing to yourself “Silent Night” to remind yourself to not buy toys that will cause silent nights for your little ones.

Wishing you and yours healthy hearing and a happy holiday season!

 

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