Loud toys are on the naughty list this Christmas

Noise induced hearing loss is a common problem amongst those who work in noisy environments. We are also seeing a rise in noise induced hearing loss in music loving teenagers who listen to personal music players at too loud a volume. Now, young children may also be at risk of noise induced hearing loss from their loud toys.

For the last 15 years, the Sight & Hearing Association (SHA) in the US has published a ‘Noisy Toys List’. When compiling last year’s list they found that out of 18 toys tested, seven emitted sounds above 100dB(A).

Noise induced hearing loss can be caused by a one-off exposure to loud noise, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud noises over a long period of time, such as working with loud tools or machines in a factory.

Repeated, extended exposure to sounds of 85dB(A) or more can cause hearing loss. In the UK, an employer must not allow an employee to exceed a daily or weekly exposure of 87dB(A).

Safety standards for toys in the UK, British Standards, are recommendations, they are not compulsory. These state that noise from a toy held close to the ear should not exceed 80dB(A) over a daily exposure of eight hours, this is approximately 85dB(A) over a normal playtime of two and a half hours. The peak noise of a toy, other than a cap gun, should not exceed 110dB(C) and the peak noise of a cap gun should not exceed 125dB(C). It is also recommended that any toys exceeding these peak volumes should carry warnings.

Astonishingly, some of the toys tested last year by the SHA, which are still available this year in the UK, measured in excess of 100dB(A) when held to the ear and still exceeded the employers’ noise limit of 87dB(A) when measured at 10 inches, which is the approximate length of a child’s arm.

Disney’s Baby Einstein ‘Take Along Tunes’ hand held toy has a recommended age of 3m+. This measured 114.8dB(A) when held at the ear and 88.1dB(A) at arm’s length. This toy could be listened to at arm’s length for four hours but next to the ear for less than 30 seconds before there is a risk of noise induced hearing loss.

The Care Bear Wiggle Hugs Wonderheart™ Bear measures 91.9dB(A) at the ear, reducing to 81.8dB(A) at arm’s length. Given the nature of the toy, it is likely that lengthy periods of play time would be at less than arm’s length, increasing the risk of damage to hearing.

Even the must-have toy of 2012, Buzz Lightyear exceeded the recommended noise limits. At the ear this measured a booming 111dB(A), reducing to 81.6dB(A) at arm’s length.

Whilst consideration should be taken into account of the risks of toys when buying presents during this festive season, there will be certain toys that children think they just cannot live without. With this in mind, we have come up with some tips on how to reduce the risk of noise induced hearing loss and help everyone have a more peaceful holiday:

  • Test toys before you buy them, if it is too loud for your ears, it will be too loud for your child;
  • Look for a volume control, if there is one turn it to a low setting;
  • If there is no way to control the volume, put thick tape over the speaker, this is an effective way of reducing the volume;
  • Watch your child playing with the toy and ensure they do not hold it too close to their ears;
  • Tell your children about the dangers of listening to loud volumes;
  • Don’t have your television or radio volume too loud, children will get used to loud volumes and follow your example.

There is no cure for noise induced hearing loss and as the world continues to get louder, more and more young people are being diagnosed with irreversible hearing loss. Noise induced hearing loss is the only hearing loss which is preventable and educating children on the dangers of loud noise is one way to prevent them damaging their hearing.

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