Deafening din in Toyland


Some children’s toys, electronics and MP3 players are capable of emitting sounds so loud that it takes only minutes or seconds to cause permanent hearing damage.

Even if the siren or music that a toy emits doesn’t seem obnoxious to you, there is a physiological reason that the sounds could be dangerous.

“Everyone’s ears act as a natural tube resonator, like blowing in a Coke bottle,” said Laura Brady, senior clinical audiologist with the Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center.

Since a child’s ear canals are smaller than an adult’s, the difference can translate into as much as 20 decibels between the sound you hear and the sound a child hears.

Add to that the fact that a child’s arms are shorter. He’s holding it closer to his ears than an adult would, Brady said.

“Any toy that is loud enough that you have to raise your voice to be heard over it is too loud,” she said.

Every year, the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group releases “Trouble in Toyland,” a safety survey. This year, the organization’s 21st survey lists six toys that are “excessively loud.” All are 90 to 97 decibels when held about 10 inches from the ear. Depending on how close they are, the loud toys on the list can equal the noise made by cement mixers (100 decibels) or power saws (110 decibels).

But oh boy. Try to take a toy away from a child, even for her own good.

Brady recommends muffling the toy’s speaker with cotton or foam, limiting play time to a few minutes at a time or removing the batteries. (Make sure a small child can’t remove any stuffing or tape, which could cause choking.)

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration demands that employers take hearing preservation measures, such as providing ear plugs when workplace noise levels are at 85 decibels (a sound level between city traffic noise and a lawn mower) or more. But there are no federal standards on how loud toys can be, said Gail Murray, director of audiology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Nor are noise-offensive toys required to have warning labels.

Shortening play time or even removing a toy for good may throw your little one into a tizzy, but parents have a responsibility to protect their children, Murray said.

“Even brief exposure to sudden, very loud sounds can cause a child to suffer instant, permanent hearing damage,” Murray said.

Did your child get a too-loud toy for Christmas? Murray’s advice: “Take it back.”

The “Trouble in Toyland” list of six toys that make too much noise:

– Frontline Defenders Assault Machine (manufacturer, KB Holdings; maximum decibel measurements, 97 to 104)

– Carry Along Musical Keyboard with Teaching Lights (Little Tikes Co./Kids Station Toys International; 90 to 103 decibels)

– Elite Operations Astro Blaster Set (Geoffrey; 91 to 105 decibels)

– Tool Truck Cordless Impact Drill (New Bright Industrial; 92 to 98 decibels)

– Dream Dazzlers Stylin’ Guitar (Geoffrey; 95 to 110 decibels)

– Boom Blasters Sax (Summit Products; 91 to 100 decibels)