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Noisy Toys and Hearing Loss - What You Need to Know

Published: 12/16/2013

Last Updated: 07/02/2018

With letters to Santa and shopping sprees well under way, toys on store and warehouse shelves are eagerly anticipating a new home. Some of the toys are quiet objects that will last through many years of a child’s play. Hopefully, they’ll be remembered fondly as they’re taken out from boxes when cleaning and packing for college at 10:00pm the night before move-in day. Then, there are toys that make noise. Some parents dread that moment at birthday parties or holidays when relatives excitedly present a gift to the child, exclaiming that he will love its 26 features (uh oh) and that the batteries are included (oh boy)! The child rips the paper off and squeals happily because he just received a toy with endless buttons, lights, and (you guessed it) a vast array of noises to accompany each button and light. His parents will spend the next two weeks regretting including a noisy toys ban on the invitation. All joking aside, the real problem may be something parents aren’t even aware of: some of these noisy toys can have a serious impact on a child’s long-term hearing health.

Each year, the Sight and Hearing Association tests toys that emit noise to determine their decibel levels at different distances. 2013 tests were performed from distances of 0 inches from the testing device and 10 inches from the testing device, both representing the distance from the toy to a child’s ear. 10 inches represents the average distance if a child is holding a toy at arm’s length. The two readings taken in these tests represent the broadest ends of the spectrum if a child is holding the toy; we can probably assume that a child will move a toy around at different distances from his/her ear.

The decibel measurement and how long the exposure lasts are the disconcerting aspects about the results of these tests. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) guidelines maintain that 85 dBA for 8 hours of exposure is the recommended limit. Anything above that is considered hazardous, and the length of time exposed decreases as the decibel levels increase. How long does a child stay engaged with toys that emit noise? How far away is he/she holding the toy from the ear? These are factors that matter to parents and caretakers in any role or setting, whether it’s at home, day care, school, or a friend’s house.

There are certainly some measures that parents can take to protect a child’s hearing. A lot of the toys in the stores have “Try Me” buttons. Although it can be fun to press all of the buttons at once (you know you want to every time you walk in the aisle!), if you try each one individually, you’ll be able to tell if it’s too loud or not. Hint: if it’s too loud for you, it’s too loud for the child! Luckily, some of the toys have a volume control knob, so even if the toy is too loud when you try it, you can fix the volume to a lower level with well-bonding tape or glue. In the long run, teaching a child what acceptable volume levels are will have a more permanent effect on choices regarding hearing health.

If you think your child (or a child you know) may have been exposed to loud noise levels for an extended period of time, play it safe and schedule an appointment with the child’s doctor. There are many options for preventing hearing loss, but regular checkups are essential to maintaining hearing health.

Below are some of the toys that made the list for 2013.

Takealong Tunes

The worst offender on the list is the Baby Einstein™ Takealong Tunes, which is like an MP3 player for a child aged 3 months and above. It plays classical music (Mozart, Vivaldi, Chopin, Rossini), is handheld, has a high/low volume control, and is appropriate for ages 3 months and above. At 0 inches, the noise level came in at a whopping 114.8 dB(A). Exposure up to a child’s ear for one minute or longer regularly increases the risk of permanent hearing loss significantly. At 10 inches, the noise level came in at 88.1 dB(A). Regular extended exposure to this level increases the risk of gradual hearing loss. Fixing the volume to the low setting is highly recommended for this toy.


Meowsic Keyboard

The Meowsic Keyboard is a keyboard for children ages 2 to 6 and features multiple instrument choices, songs that play back, and volume control. The reading at 0 inches was 106.8 dB(A), another startling result. At 10 inches, the reading was 87.9 dB(A).

Doc McStuffins Checkup Set

Doc McStuffins Magic Talkin’ Checkup Set, for children 3 to 8 years old, comes with a checkup table and figures of characters from the TV show. When one of the figures is placed on the patient table, the figure’s voice emits from the toy. The readings for this one were 106.8 dB(A) at 0 inches and 87.9 dB(A) at 10 inches. Unfortunately, this toy does not come with volume control.

Count and Chat Cell PhoneThe LeapFrog™ Chat and Count Cell Phone is a handheld phone that plays songs, helps with learning counting and social skills, and is geared toward children between 18 and 36 months. It also features a volume control knob, which should be fixed to a low setting, as a phone toy will likely be held up to the ear. The noise levels came in at 100.7 dB(A) for 0 inches and 78.9 dB(A) for 10 inches.


To view the complete naughty list of noisy toys, visit Sight and Hearing Association’s Facebook notes page.


Last updated: December 16, 2013


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