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Can noisy toys damage children's ears?

Posted on Sep. 3, 2013 ( comments)
Sepehr Oliaei, MD, Otolaryngologist

Are we living in an era of loud machines and toys? A quick stroll through shopping aisles at large chain toy stores or electronics resellers may convince you of that. It is hard not to think this with the ever-increasing popularity of digital music players, high-end headphones, computer games geared toward younger and younger demographics and traditional toys like tractors and bulldozers that emit ever more sophisticated and realistic on-the-job sounds.

One of my recent publications in the Journal of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery (the major Journal of the Academy of Ear Nose and Throat surgeons) reported that although toys are not necessarily getting louder, an increasing number of them can damage a child’s hearing if sustained for a long period of time.

I see more and more patients in my office with noise-induced hearing loss. Although this is not the most common cause of hearing loss, it is certainly the most common preventable cause.

In February of 2013, I was part of another group that studied prevalence of hearing loss in the United States associated with loud noise exposure. Our study produced shocking results. We estimated that as much as 12.8 percent of the entire population of the United States may be suffering from some form of noise-induced hearing loss!

Numbers do not lie. We need to find ways to protect our families from this easily preventable condition. Parents must educate themselves and their older children and teenagers about this issue.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, prolonged exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dBs) can cause hearing damage. To get an idea of the range of sound intensity, consider the following:

  • a normal conversation is about 60 dBs;
  • a garbage disposal or noisy office is about 80 dBs;
  • a power drill or a blender is about 90 dBs;
  • a jet plane during takeoff is 120, when heard from several hundred feet away;
  • and jackhammers and ambulances are 130.
In our 2012 study, we found toys that produced noise levels as high as 121dBs at speaker level.

Unfortunately, no government regulation exists to protect children from the danger of loud toys. Parents need to protect their families on their own. The easiest way to do this is to call and ask the toy manufacturers before making a purchase. Alternatively, various applications on popular smart phones allow you to test sound level (eg. SoundMeter for the iPhone).

Making informed choices when it comes to your purchases is the smartest and easiest way to exert pressure on the industry as a consumer. And protecting your children’s hearing? Well, that’s music to my ears.

About The Author

Oliaei_Sepehr Sepehr Oliaei, MD

Sepehr Oliaei, MD, is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at MultiCare ENT, Sinus & Allergy Specialists - Tacoma. To schedule an appointment or evaluation, call 253-403-0065.

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