I know when shopping with my husband, he may go for a toy that makes loud noises if we are shopping for a child whose parents have gifted our kids with noise makers. I have to remind him that revenge is not always the best policy with gift giving. I know I am more sensitive to toys that are loud due to my career, but this is not always on people’s list of criteria when buying a toy for the child on their list.
I often notice that sometimes before Christmas there is a report or two that comes out about loud toys, but let’s not wait for the major shopping season to look at those toys which have the potential to damage a child’s hearing. Around the end of the year, the Sight & Hearing Association (SHA), a non-profit organization along with researchers from the University of Minnesota tested a couple of dozen toys, taken directly from toy store shelves, for potentially dangerous noise levels.
It is known that sounds of 85 decibel (dB) or greater can cause hearing loss. In fact, sounds that are 85 dB can cause permanent hearing damage when listened to for a continuous 8-hour period and the louder the sound, the shorter the listening time before damage occurs. For example, a 100 dB sound can begin to damage the hearing after only 15 minutes of listening. Toys are surprisingly loud and have the potential of producing sounds exceeding 100 dB. Today, standards and regulations are enforced by the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) (ASTM F963-08) requiring the sound of toys to not exceed a sound-pressure level of 85 dB 50 cm from the surface of toy (excluding close-to-the-ear toys) (1). Most children however play with toys by holding them close to the body or sitting next to them, which is less than 50 cm or 19.7 inches. The SHA evaluated the noise levels of toys in real play situations, thus they measure the sound at distances where a child will likely hold the toy, near the ear (0 inches), and at arm’s length (10 inches).
In 2012, of the 24 toys tested 19 had noise levels greater than 85 decibels (dB). 2012’s top offender, Disney Cars 2 Shake ‘N Go Finn McMissile, blared at 124 decibels (dB), when measured directly at the speaker. According to the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) standards, a sound level of that magnitude may lead to a risk of hearing damage almost instantly (2). Many of the toys tested exceeded the acceptable 85 dB level, when measured from 10 inches from the toy.
The Sight & Hearing Association offers the following tips to protect any child’s hearing when buying a toy:
Listen to a toy before you buy it. If it sounds loud to you, it’s too loud for your child. Put masking or packing tape over the speaker on the toy. Report a loud toy. Call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2882 or the Sight & Hearing Association at 1-800-992-0424
Kelly Halterman contributed to this blog. She received her Doctor of Audiology degree from State University of New York at Buffalo in 2012 and her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Northern Arizona University. She has a special interest in the ever-evolving advances in hearing technology as well as a patient’s intricate vestibular and balance system. She is currently practicing with Metro Hearing and Balance in Phoenix, AZ.