Just How Noisy Are Toys?

Christmas is just around the corner, so it’s time to talk about those brightly wrapped presents under the tree – specifically, all the noisy children’s toys. In fact, it may be best to leave Santa some earplugs instead of cookies and milk — chances are his bag of goodies is filled with dangerously loud toys!

Let’s get the basics of noise down first. Two aspects of noise need to be considered when examining the effects on hearing: the loudness (measured in dB or dBA) and exposure time (seconds, minutes, or hours). The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety states noise should be kept at or below 85 dBA for periods of 8 hours or longer. For every 3-dBA increase in noise, the exposure time should be cut in half. In general, the louder the noise, the shorter the amount of time you should be exposed to it. Below is a graph that shows the average levels of noise for various items or environments:

Every year, the Sight and Hearing Association (SHA) selects toys that seem too loud and tests them with a sound-level meter. Toys are required to meet acoustic standards placed by the American Society of Testing and Materials. The standards state that the volume of a toy should not exceed 85 dB at 50 cm from the surface of the toy. The problem with this is that children often hold toys close to their face or ears when playing. This distance is far less than 50 cm (it is closer to 25 cm). Therefore, SHA measures the sound level of toys at the length of an average child’s arm and also right at the speaker, and then compiles a list of the worst toy contenders for noise. In 2013, the loudest toy was The Baby Einstein Company’s Take Along Tunes, which had exposure levels as high as 114.8 dB, the equivalent to attending a rock concert! The longer a child is around a high level of noise, the more likely their hearing will be affected. Below is a chart of the other toys that made the list in 2013 and their levels of noise exposure:

SHA has several recommendations for parents on how to reduce the effects of the noise.

  • Press the buttons or rattle the toy in the store — if it sounds too loud, then it will be too loud for your child.
  • Many toys also have a volume control; keep the volume on low at all times.
  • Place masking or packing tape over the speaker. This greatly reduces the amount of noise emitted.
  • Limit the amount of time the child plays with the noisy toy.

The holidays are meant for sharing with loved ones and catching up with old friends. It is important to keep in mind those other things that are important to us and our loved ones – especially the youngest, who don’t know any better.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year from all of us at Fauquier Hearing Services!

— Dr. Wendy N. Thorne, the newest addition to the growing staff of FHS