After all the holiday toys are open, it can get quite noisy around the house. But, when does that noise pose a health problem?
"Some of the most common toys for infants, toddlers, and adolescents are not only dangerous for their hearing, but can actually damage the hearing of adults, too, considering their noise levels," says Regina Dziewior, Au.D., owner of Hearing Care of Palatine, Inc. "There aren't a lot of packages with adequate warnings, and the regulations for these toys are pretty poorly written."
Each year Sight & Hearing Association representatives go shopping for toys that sound a little too loud for young ones. This year, 18 out of 20 toys they tested with their sound meters -- 90 percent -- were loud enough (with noise levels greater than 85 decibels) to cause permanent hearing damage when operated at close range. Among the 18 loudest toys, four screamed above 100 decibels, which can damage hearing in less than 15 minutes, the association states. The loudest toy tested this year is among the popular DocMcStuffins toy line, a Rockin' Doc Sing-Along Boombox that peaks at 106.4 dB, when placed at a child's ear.
To see this year's list, visit the association's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/notes/sight-hearing-association/sight-hearing-association-releases-annual-noisy-toys-study/10152552799556378
Toys are required to meet standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials regarding sound-pressure levels, but those standards aren't always in touch with reality, experts warn. For example, regulations state that noise emitted from a children's toy must not exceed 85 decibels (dB) at 50 centimeters from the body -- but 50 centimeters is longer than the average length of an adult's arm, creating a disconnect between the actual use of a toy and its rules for production. Of the Sight & Hearing Association's 20 noisiest toys from 2014, 12 of them exceeded 94 dB at close range.
"When you consider how a child would actually play with a toy, they generally hold it a lot closer to their body," says Dziewior. "So how safe they are, is really based on whether they'll be interacting with and using the toy for an extended period of time or not. We don't want to suggest to parents that they return their child's gifts, but some of the loudest toys might be causing permanent damage after only a few minutes of play."
If you own a smartphone, any consumer can download a sound level meter application that measures the sound level of a toy, the association advises.
"If you don't own a smartphone, your ears will do just fine. The rule of thumb is, if a toy sounds too loud to you, it is too loud," the association notes.
To avoid feeling like the Grinch who stole your child's Christmas, use tape or glue to cover the speakers of your child's loudest toys, experts advise. This will help mitigate the intensity of the sounds they make.