Warning! Loud toys can cause hearing system damage

Photo credit: Tom Magliery licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist, Member, The Quiet Coalition

The Sight and Hearing Association has published its annual 2021 Noisy Toys List. As an audiologist and parent, I wouldn’t buy or gift any toy on the list. In my opinion, they are all too loud for safety.

It’s alarming that these toys are being advertised for ages 6-months to 6-years old. Every toy on the list is near or above the public health daily noise limit of 70 dBA (decibels, A-weighted) at close range. Approaching this loudness puts little ones at risk of permanent hearing problems.

An article is U.S. News & World Report about the list mentions the risk of noise-induced hearing loss from inner ear damage, but doesn’t mention loud noise also damages the hearing nerves. So in addition to hearing risk, loud toys could cause auditory processing disorders, e.g. tinnitus, hyperacusis or sound sensitivity, or problems with speech understanding.

Unfortunately, the article discusses avoiding toys with sound levels above 85 dBA–a level when adult workers need hearing protection–as if this level was also safe enough for children’s delicate ears.

If you’re using a smartphone app to check how loud a toy is, I recommend using public health measurement settings.* If a toy sounds too loud to you, it is too loud for a child. I once bought a frog toy for my infant that made my ears ring after one noisy squeak. It went straight into the garbage.

Other prevention options for noisy toys include turning the volume setting to as low as possible and taping it so the control doesn’t accidentally get bumped. Some people recommend putting tape over the speaker to muffle the sound level or taking out the batteries, if possible.

While useful, it’s a shame noisy toy lists are needed each year. But that’s what happens when toy manufacturers ignore the hearing risk and there are no requirements to keep sound levels safe for developing ears.

Children deserve better protection to prevent hearing damage while playing.

*Public health measurement settings for smartphone sound level meter apps include A-weighted frequency filter, Fast time-weighting, and 3 dB exchange rate for average dB (dBA Leq or dB LAeq) or dB Max measurements.

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