Amy Movius, MD
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Noise induced hearing loss, or NIHL, is hearing loss that occurs from being exposed to overly loud noise. It is often the insidious result of exposure to excess noise over time. Unfortunately, this type of hearing loss is permanent. NIHL can occur from exposure to high sound levels in the environment – such as traffic, or noise inherent in certain occupations. Likewise, NIHL from loud music has become a major concern for our teenagers and young adults due to the popularity of personal listening devices such as ipods.
A more surprising source of noise pollution is loud toys. The groups most vulnerable to injury from noisy toys are infants and toddlers, for whom many of these toys are targeted. These children will often hold these toys close to their faces or even against their ears. While developmentally appropriate, this behavior increases the sound level, and therefore the chance of hearing injury. There is little in the way of oversight for the production of these toys. In 2003 the Toy Industry Association set a voluntary sound limit on toys of < 90 decibels at 10 inches away from the ear. For perspective, this is roughly equivalent to the sound of a lawn mower. This limit is also voluntary, NOT required, and there is no obligation for toy manufacturers to list the sound level on toy packaging either. Clearly, it falls to the surrounding adults to police the exposure of these children to excessively noisy toys.
There are some easy ways to judge whether an audio toy’s noise level is safe, and perhaps modify it if needed.
1. Listen to the toy holding it 12 inches or less from your own head. If it is loud enough to make you flinch, it’s too loud.
2. For a more exact assessment, sound level meters can be purchased at electronic stores (around $40). Hold the meter up to the speaker portion of a toy - if it registers > 85 decibels, the toy is too loud.
3. Noisy toys sometimes have volume controls and/or on-off switches. Keep them turned down, or even off.
4. If a noisy toy doesn’t have any control switches, cover the speaker with packing tape to muffle the sound (for older children) or get out your screwdriver and remove the batteries altogether
For many households with small children, Christmas and toys go hand in hand. This year, ask friends and family to let you screen the toys they want to buy your kids. Also, remember to protect your children’s hearing with ear plugs or ear mufflers when attending any loud events to celebrate this holiday season, as the noise levels at concerts, sporting events, and the like are often above safe limits. Lastly, if you think a toy is too loud, report it to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.