Noisy toys may be dangerous

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 13, 1999

When shopping for the perfect toy for the holiday season, parents should be aware of how noisy the toy is and the possibility that the toy may damage their child’s hearing.

Monday, December 13, 1999

When shopping for the perfect toy for the holiday season, parents should be aware of how noisy the toy is and the possibility that the toy may damage their child’s hearing. That’s the advice of a state safety group and a local audiologist.

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The Minnesota-based Sight & Hearing Association recently released a report testing the noise levels of a dozen of some of the most popular toys for Christmas.

&uot;There may be a temporary threshold shift,&uot; or decrease in hearing, said Dr. Linda Logan, an audiologist for the Albert Lea Medical Center. &uot;However, with prolonged exposure, we might see a susceptibility to permanent threshold shift.&uot;

According to Sight & Hearing Association’s tests, tests, four of the 12 toys tested measured above 100 decibels (dB) – louder than a chain saw. The loudest toy, S.R.M.’s Power Fazer, measured at 110-115 dB, the same level as an auto horn in the ear. Regular exposure to noise over 100 dB poses a risk for permanent hearing loss.

Logan said continued exposure to anything over 100 dB is dangerous. That’s the same dB level as standing next to an airplane at takeoff.

To put things in prospective, Logan explained safety regulations regarding occupational noise.

&uot;If someone is exposed to 85 dB over an eight hour shift, they have to wear hearing protection. If it’s 90 dB over four hours, they have to have a break, legally,&uot; Logan said.

So toys in the 70 to 90 dB range is considered acceptable, considering that children probably won’t play with the toys for four hours straight.

Currently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission does not have regulations that address the loudness of toys. Another regulatory agency, the American Society of Testing and Materials, requires that toys not exceed 138 dB when measured 25 cm from the surface of the toy. That is louder than a gunshot or a jet at take-off. Standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) for the nation’s workers indicate that continued exposure to noise over 85 dBA will eventually harm hearing.

Because of a child’s shorter arm span, toys are often potentially more dangerous because children hold them closer to their ears, according to the Sight & Hearing Association.

In the Sight & Hearing Association study, the toys were tested for noise levels at a distance of three inches, six inches and 12 inches to simulate the way a child might hold the toy. A sound-proof booth was used to ensure an accurate recording.

The Fisher Price Elmo’s Rock and Roll Guitar measured 85 dB, three inches away from the surface, in the study. However, Logan said, with the proper parental guidance, the toy is generally safe. A toy guitar would probably be held at a greater distance than three inches, so the measured dB would be lower.

&uot;Distance always decreases the intensity,&uot; Logan said. She recognizes that curious children will hold the toys close to their ears. That’s where parental supervision comes into play.

&uot;If we teach our children to be conscientious to noise levels, they will be less likely in the future to engage in practices that are dangerous to their hearing,&uot; Logan said. That includes teaching children and young adults to be responsible for their hearing by wearing ear plugs when they’re shooting a gun, riding a loud snowmobile or other loud activities. It also means parents should teach their children to keep the volume down on TVs, home and car stereos and walkmans.

But the lesson could start with providing toys that aren’t loud.

&uot;The concern is that children will be desensitized to noise levels,&uot; Logan said. If they are given loud toys in their early years, they will be less likely to be conscientious of noise levels later in life.

Logan’s advise is simple: &uot;If it sounds too loud to you, don’t buy it for your child.&uot; h When shopping, hold the toy as a child would, as a similar distance to the ear. If it seems too loud, put it back on the shelf and look for a more suitable alternative, Logan suggested.