Noisy Toys Are Not Child's Play
With the holidays just around the corner, you are probably hoping that a set of drums is not on your child’s gift list. But did you know that this notoriously loud instrument is not the only one that can drum up an ear-popping noise?
Just ask folks at the Minnesota-based Sight and Hearing Association (SHA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing the needless loss of vision and hearing through effective screening, education, and research. Each year, they purchase most commonly available toys to assess them for noise levels. After the University of Minnesota resident otolaryngologists test the toys in a soundproof chamber, SHA releases its findings.
Out of 18 toys put to test this year, 14 measured over 100 decibels (dB), which should alarm any parent because hearing care professionals say that sounds louder than 85 dB are potentially hazardous. Not only that, but federal guidelines require hearing protection be worn in the workplace if noise levels are above the 85 dB threshold!
Don’t you just miss the good old days when all we heard were soft click-clacking sounds of a rocking horse?
Don’t toy with hearing
The number one offender on the SHA’s list is Fisher Price’s Shake ‘N Go Mater. The manufacturer boasts on its website that this truck from the Disney/Pixar movie Cars, “is the funniest and the best friend anybody could have anywhere… Just shake him up to start his engine – you’ll hear engine sounds and he'll say memorable phrases from the movie. The more you shake him up, the longer he goes!”
But as it turns out, the sound emitted by the smiling car is not a laughing matter. The SHA says the toy, intended for children ages 3 to 7, “screeches at 120.8 dB. At that level, a person starts to risk hearing damage in literally less than eight seconds, according to National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health guidelines.”
The Little People ABC Letter Sounds puzzle, number two on the SHA’s list, produces deafening sounds of 114.5 dB, although it is meant for 18-month-old toddlers.
Other popular toys, such as the Disney High School Musical Rockerz Boomin' Drums, a handheld musical toy made by Zizzle, Mattel's Speed Racer Mighty Mach 5 Racing Wheel, and Fisher Price’s Press & Go Animal Parade, all emit sounds exceeding 100 dB.
Tiny ears under assault
Here’s why you should be concerned: Recent studies show that exposure to harmful noise levels triggers the formation of molecules inside the ear, which play an important role in hearing loss in children who are exposed to loud noise for too long. And while noise is harmful to people of all ages, children’s hearing is particularly fragile. Their ear canals are much smaller than adults’ (increasing the sound pressure level) and thus more sensitive to loud sounds.
Give a noisy toy to a child and you know what happens: unlike adults, who may listen to environmental noise from a distance, a child often holds a toy close to the ear. Think of the potential consequences of this sound pressure on his or her hearing. As a matter of fact, U.S. government survey data shows that approximately 5.2 million children ages 6 to 19 already have permanent damage to their ears' hair cells caused by exposure to loud noises.
Such noise-induced damage, experts warn, can unfortunately have long-term consequences: it can diminish a child's hearing, language development, ability to learn, and social interactions. That’s why it is so important to be careful in selecting toys that Santa will bring your children this season.
Buying toys has become a potentially risky undertaking. Between toys with small parts that can lodge in a child’s nose or throat, and those coated with toxic paint, parents and grandparents need a map to safely navigate the aisles of a toy store.
And now the noisy toys are sounding the alarm too. So how do you make sure that the toys you buy this holiday season (and beyond) don’t emit sounds equivalent to a chainsaw (100 dB), a rock concert (115 db) or a jet engine (120 dB)?
Generally speaking, toys not exceeding 80 to 85 dB (a bit louder than a normal conversation and lower than a lawnmower) are safe if their use is not excessive. For more information on dangerous noise levels and which toys made the list for 2008, visit the SHA’s website.
You can also put a toy to this test: hold it up to your ear. If you recoil at the shrill sound of the siren, squeak, shriek, whistle or roar it emits, you can be sure that a young child’s auditory nerve won’t like it either. And while you are at it, inspect all the toys your child already plays with. If they sound too loud to you, remove the batteries or place a piece of clear packing tape over the speaker to muffle the sound.
Being vigilant and pro-active about the toys’ noise level will ensure healthy hearing, a Merry Christmas and, above all, a Silent Night!