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How to protect your child’s hearing from loud toys

December 14, 2017 | UCI Health
girl playing with triangle toy

The holidays can be a deafening experience for your child — literally — and you may not even realize it.

Each year, UCI Health otolaryngologist Dr. Hamid Djalilian and his team test dozens of popular toys to determine which have the highest maximum sound levels.

“If you’re a parent, you’ve probably become so accustomed to the noise level of your kids’ favorite toys that you don’t give it a second thought,” he says.

"These toys are not inherently dangerous simply because they can be loud," Djalilian said. "However, many can damage a child's hearing if not used properly."

But banishing loud toys from the home entirely may be easier said than done. After all, it’s not always possible to prevent well-meaning friends and relatives from giving your child shrieking toys.

How to keep the volume down

Djalilian suggests a couple of things parents can do keep down the volume on toys:

  • Put water-proof tape or super glue over the speaker to mute the sound
  • Put tape over the volume control, to prevent your child from increasing the volume to unsafe levels

The physician also recommends giving your children a crash course on hearing safety.

“It’s crucial to teach your child how to play with toys properly,” says Djalilian.

That means teaching them not to put noisy toys near their ears. It also means enforcing time limits for the loudest toys.

“The louder the toy, the shorter the playing time should be,” Djalilian recommends.

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). Noise-induced hearing loss can result from a single exposure to a very loud sound (120 dB or more), or by listening to loud noises at or above 85 dB for an extended period of time.

How loud are your child’s toys?

Djalilian suggests a simple four-step test to help parents find toys that won't hurt young ears:

  • Ear test. Hold each toy as close to your ear as your child would. Is the toy too loud for you at this distance?
  • Arm test. Hold the toy away from you, approximating the length of your child’s arm. If the toy is too noisy for you at this distance, it’s not safe for your child.
  • Talk test. If you have to shout above the sound effects so you can be heard, it’s a sure sign that the toy could damage your child’s hearing.
  • Try-me buttons. Try-me buttons allow you to test a toy’s sound effects in the store. “Toy manufacturers state that the toy will be quieter at home because the try-me sound level is adjusted to overcome background noise in the store,” says Djalilian. “But our tests on a limited sample of toys showed there is little difference between the sound level in the store and at home.”

“The ability to hear is precious,” says Djalilian, who plans to continue calling attention to the dangers of noisy toys.

“Noise is the No. 1 cause of preventable hearing loss. The goal of our annual list is to preserve children’s hearing by getting word out about the potential hazards of sound-enhanced toys.”

infographic illustrating loudness of toys

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