Date: December 1, 2011
Nothing shatters the silence of a holiday morning like the ear-splitting siren on your toddler's new fire truck. Let's face it — children's toys often are loud. In fact, some toys designed for preschoolers are so loud that when they were tested for the Sight and Hearing Association's annual list of noisy toys, they blared at 129.2 and 119.5 decibels. That's about as loud as a rock concert or an airliner at take off.
Why noise matters
The inner ear is lined with approximately 30,000 sensitive hair cells that convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Exposure to either very loud sounds or continuous exposure for long periods of time can bend or break these hair cells. Once the hair cells are damaged, they don't grow back.
Your child's ear is much more sensitive than an adult's, so when your child is immersed in a noisy environment or playing with a noisy toy she is much more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss, which can lead to permanent hearing damage.
"It is the accumulated use of noisy toys and close exposure to loud sounds that we are concerned about," says Kathy Webb, executive director of the Sight and Hearing Association in St. Paul, Minn. "That is why we warn parents to be cautious and aware that some toys pose a risk of hearing loss."
Before you head out for holiday shopping, take into consideration the guidelines listed below.
- Become aware of sound in small spaces. Noisy toys become amplified in small indoor spaces. If you feel certain toys are too loud for your child to play with inside (such as certain trucks and musical instruments), have your child play with them outside where the noise can be dispersed.
- Be mindful of warnings. While toy manufacturers are not required to list the decibel level on their packaging, some do list warnings that the toy should not be held close to ears. Since that may be the first thing your child will do, it is probably best to skip toys with this warning.
- Forget the earbuds. Many young children now play handheld video games or use tablets or other handheld devices to watch movies. In situations where headphones are required, choose child-friendly headphones over earbuds, which deliver noise much more closely to the ears than headphones. Sony, Kidz Gear and Maxell make headphones designed specifically for children that also have volume protection features.
- Control the volume. The maximum volume level on a typical MP3 player is 105 decibels, but listening to music at only 85 decibels for a prolonged period of time can increase risk for hearing loss. Many companies are responding to this problem by providing consumer options that help prevent hearing loss. Apple, for example, enables parents to lock the volume at a specific limit on all Apple products. No matter how much a child "cranks" the volume button, the sound will not go above that preset level.
- Set limits to help your child listen responsibly. Webb recommends using the "60-percent/ 60-minute rule," which translates to listening to music at no more than 60 percent of maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
- Talk to your child about how noise affects his or her hearing. Use age-appropriate language to tell your child how a noisy toy or listening to music too long can affect his or her hearing. This helps send the message that hearing health is just as important as taking care of the rest of the body.
You can obtain the Sight and Hearing Association's updated list of noisy toys by emailing Webb at email@example.com.
Krystyann Krywko is a writer and education researcher who specializes in hearing loss and the impact it has on children and families. She and and her young son were both diagnosed with hearing loss one year apart.