Noisy holiday toys are no gift to a child’s hearing

Photo credit: cottonbro studio

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

US News and World Report correctly informs readers that noisy holiday toys are no gift to a child’s hearing. Reporter Dennis Thompson covers a news release from the American Academy of Audiology in which the Academy’s president Bopanna Ballachanda warns parents to check toy noise levels before buying. Ballanchanda said that “most parents don’t realize the permanent damage a simple toy can inflict on a child’s hearing. When we fail to protect a child’s hearing, the result is irreversible hearing loss.”

Ballanchanda is right about the dangers of noise for hearing, but he is misinformed about the safe noise level to prevent hearing loss. He said federal guidelines identify 85 decibels as the level at which noise can cause damage to a person’s hearing. But that’s just dead wrong. I reached out to let him know that the World Health Organization recommends only one hour at 85 A-weighted* decibels (dBA) to prevent hearing loss, and that the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 70 decibels (dB) for a day.

It’s worth noting that the actual safe noise level to prevent hearing loss may be as low as 55 dBA for a single exposure and 55-60 dB average for a day. I’ve covered this before, but I want to be sure that readers are aware of the recently released American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on noise and children.

Hearing loss and heart disease are not part of normal physiological aging, but instead represent the cumulative effects of lifelong noise or dietary exposures. MedPage Today recently covered a study showing that adult atherosclerosis begins in infancy. The same is probably true for hearing loss, common in old age but misnamed presbycusis or age-related hearing loss. I think better terms would be sociocusis or noise-induced hearing loss in the elderly

If parents, grandparents, teachers and coaches protects children’s ears, they should last a lifetime. A quieter world for children will be part of a healthier and better world for all.

*A-weighting adjusts unweighted sound measurements to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech.

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