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Noisy Toys 2012

From the American Tinnitus Association — Hold that thought before you buy that noisy toy for your kids or grandkids this year.  The Sight and Hearing Association has released its list of the noisiest toys of 2012, and chances are that noise-maker you’re looking at could cause hearing loss. Of 20 toys tested this year,  12  sounded  off  above  100  decibels  (dB),  which  can  damage  hearing  in  less  than  15 minutes.

The noisiest toys of 2012 can cause permanent hearing loss within 15 minutes of exposure.

Walking through the toy aisle at various stores, SHA selects toys that appear to be too loud for consumers. Once brought back to their office, a hand-held sound level meter is used to measure the sound produced from the speaker and 10 inches from the speaker of the toy. This, year, Mattel’s Talking Figure Buzz Lightyear was the leader among a dozen toys that literally went from infinity and beyond when it came to producing sound, blasting out at 111 dB. According to the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, exposure to decibel levels at a close distance would cause hearing damage almost immediately. Exposure to noise levels above 85 dB for no more than eight hours is the federal threshold for hearing protection. SHA reminds consumers that hearing loss is cumulative and it typically does not happen from one event; it gradually happens over time and that is why it is important to protect hearing at a young age.

Toys are required to meet the acoustic standard set by the American Society of Testing and Materials, which states that the sound-pressure level produced by toys shall not exceed 85 dB at 50 cm from the surface of the toy. “The problem with this standard is 50 cm is longer than the average arm length of an adult. We test toys based on how a child would play with them, not how an adult would play with them. If you watch a child playing with a noise-producing toy, you will see them hold it close to their ears or within their arms length, which is closer to 10 inches (25 cm)”, explains Kathy Webb, executive director of SHA.

Parents can do a few things to make it a little quieter this holiday season. SHA recommends testing the toy before you buy it. Webb says, “push buttons and rattle toys as you walk through the toy aisle and if a toy is too loud for you, it will be too loud for your child. Look for toys that have volume controls and if you must buy a noisy toy, or your child receives a noisy toy from a well-meaning family member, place clear packing tape over the speaker, it will reduce the sound level enough to make the toy ear-safe.” The University of Minnesota/Department of Otolaryngology confirmed in a study that was released in August 2012, that covering noise- producing toys with tape or glue will significantly reduce the noise level of a toy, making it safer for children.

Founded in 1939, Minnesota-based Sight & Hearing Association is dedicated to enabling lifetime learning by identifying preventable loss of vision and hearing. If consumers have a noisy toy to report, they can contact SHA at  reportatoy@sightandhearing.org.

The Noisiest Toys of 2011

Christmas time is here again, and this is arguably the busiest season for toy makers.  As most parents and grandparents know, some of the hottest toys of the season are also the ones that make the most noise.  And every year, with the commencement of the Christmas shopping season, the Sight and Hearing Association releases a list of the most dangerously loud toys available.

The Loudest Toys of the Year

The Noisiest Toys of 2011

The toy that gets this year’s dubious honor as the loudest is the Disney Cars 2 Shake ‘n Go! Racer, Finn Missile made by Fisher-Price, Inc.  This toy puts out 124 decibels of sound when held close to the ear and 99.5 decibels of sound when held 10 inches away from the ear.  Other toys on the list are the Sesame Street Let’s Rock Elmo Guitar made by Hasbro, the Tonka Toughest Minis Fire and Police vehicles by Funrise Toy Corp., and the Dora Tunes Microphone by Fisher-Price, Inc.  The entire list is now available for download.

Giving Perspective to the Numbers

How loud are everyday sounds? (Click for full-size image.)

To most people, 124 decibels is just a number.  But the Finn Missile Racer, when held close to the ear, is as loud as most rock-and-roll concerts.  When held 10 inches away from the ear, the same toy is still as loud as a motorcycle.  Both levels of sound are dangerous to human hearing.  Prolonged exposure to noise levels of 85 decibels and higher can result in permanent hearing loss.  At 120 decibels, damage can happen after less than 10 seconds of exposure.  At 100 decibels, it only takes 15 minutes of exposure for damage to occur.

Why the Current Standard Doesn’t Work

As of 2009, toy manufacturers were required to follow sound level guidelines for all toys. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) (ASTM F963-08) states the sound-pressure level produced by all toys except close-to-the-ear toys shall not exceed 85 decibels when held 50 centimeters (roughly 18 inches) from the surface of the toy.

Decibel-limiting headphones are an ideal hearing prevention measure for children and teenagers.

However, most kids play with their toys by holding them or sitting right next to them, not from a distance of 18 inches.  For the past 14 years, the Sight and Hearing Association has tested toys at distances simulating how a child might hold the toy – directly near the ear (0 inches) and at arm’s length (10 inches). A sound-proof acoustic chamber is used to ensure accurate measurements.

How to Protect Your Child’s Hearing

The most important thing a parent or grandparent can do to protect a child’s hearing is to listen to the toy themselves before they buy it.  If it sounds too loud in the store and through the packaging, it is too loud for a child.  You can put masking tape or packing tape over the speaker of loud toys to restrict their sound output.  Limiting the time a child can play with a loud toy is also advisable.  For older children, find sound-limiting ear buds or headphones to use with portable music players or hand-held game consoles.  Some of these devices have parental controls that allow you to control the maximum loudness that they will generate.

Good hearing is a precious and integral part of how children and people of all ages interact with the world around us. Hearing protection a relatively simple matter, especially when compared to the process of treating hearing loss. When it comes to your hearing, a good adage to live by is, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”