Toys come with a lot of warnings: Not suitable for children under three years; small parts may present choking hazards; use under adult supervision. Labels on electronic toys list the voltage while others confirm non-toxic materials. If a toy proves to be harmful, it is quickly recalled as toy manufacturers make safety a priority.
Or do they?
One thing toy warning labels don’t tell you is if the product is too loud, compromising your child’s hearing.
Noise-induced hearing loss is the No. 1 type of hearing loss, and the number of children with this condition has doubled in recent years. In fact, one in five children under the age of 12 has some degree of hearing loss. Much of it can be attributed to loud toys; but how do you know when loud is too loud?
Sherri Collins, the executive director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ACDHH), says 85 decibels (dB), which is about as loud as an alarm clock, is the maximum volume a child should be exposed to and for no more than eight hours. Decibels are a unit of measurement to gauge volumes and used in several industries, including construction and engineering, to ensure safety.
Sounds over 100 dB — equivalent to the volume of a motorcycle while riding — can damage hearing in less than 15 minutes of exposure. According to the Sight and Hearing Association, 12 of the top 20 most popular toys sold this holiday season tested above 100 dB when held close to the ear — and dangerously close to the 85 dB max when held at approximately arm’s length. The problem is kids don’t always hold their toys away from their ears, and some are even intended to be held near the face.
The top five most harmful noisy toys this year are:
- Disney Pixar Toy Story Talking Figure Buzz Lightyear by Mattel, Inc.: 111 dB near the ear, 81.6 dB at arm’s length
- Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Leonardo’s Electronic Sword by Playmates Toys: 109.2 dB near the ear, 81.6 dB at arm’s length
- Dora the Explorer/Dora’s Desert Friends by Publications Int’l., Ltd.: 108.2 dB near the year, 80.4 dB at arm’s length
- Barbie Little Learner Laptop by Oregon Scientific – 108 dB near the ear, 83.8 dB at arm’s length
- Playskool/123 Sesame Street Let’s Rock Grover Microphone by Hasbro: 107.3 dB near the ear, 79.3 at arm’s length
And that’s just for children’s toys. Video games and MP3 players, all of which can produce decibel levels that exceed safe limits, can, over time, cause hearing loss. The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing suggests monitoring your children when watching TV or listening to music and advise them not to go past a certain volume or spend more than a few hours being exposed. If you can hear your child’s music while he or she is wearing headphones, his/her music is much too loud.
In addition, children should be regularly screened for hearing loss — something that is not done by doctors during a yearly check-up. By detecting the early onset of hearing loss, appropriate measures can be taken to prevent further damage.