The American Academy of Audiology is warning parents about the dangers of noisy toys as the Sight & Hearing Association releases its annual Noisy Toys List for 2021. The American Academy of Audiology is a national association representing audiologists across the U.S. The Sight & Hearing Association is based in St. Paul, Minnesota with a goal to work towards the prevention of vision and hearing loss. Both organizations are urging parents to be cautious this holiday season when selecting toys. Recognizing that tiny ears are particularly susceptible to hearing damage, it is important to check noise levels before purchase.
“Many parents don’t realize the permanent damage a simple toy can inflict on a child’s hearing,” said Sarah Sydlowski, Au.D., Ph.D., MBA, president of the American Academy of Audiology; and associate chief improvement officer and audiology director of the Hearing Implant Program at Cleveland Clinic. “When we fail to protect a child’s hearing, the result can be irreversible hearing loss.” The inner ear contains delicate hair cells which do not regrow. Once these are damaged by noise, the result can be permanent hearing loss.
The Sight & Hearing Association has produced an annual list of noisy toys prior to the holidays for the past 24 years. Since 1939, SHA has been identifying and preventing vision and hearing loss, in partnership with other professional and community organizations, by providing screenings, education and research. “During the holiday season, we look for the most popular sound-producing toys on the market and, with a sound level meter, we measure the decibel level to raise awareness regarding how dangerously loud and potentially damaging toys can be to children. Toys are tested based on how a child would play with them, first at arm’s length (10 inches) and then next to the ear, which is how a child often listens to a noisy toy,” explained Kathy Webb, executive director of SHA.
“It’s very important that parents pay attention to this list as well as any toy they purchase. Hearing damage can be from a one-time exposure or multiple exposures over time,” explained Sydlowski. “The louder a sound is, the shorter the amount of time you can safely be around it. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends sounds at 85 dB can be safe for up to eight hours. But for every 3 dB louder the sound is, the safe listening time reduces by half. Anyone buying toys for children needs to be aware of loud noises, particularly toys that have loud bursts—cap guns, popping balloons, air horns, etc. which are loud enough to damage hearing permanently with one short exposure.”
A study released in January 2017 by researchers with the University of Alberta in Canada, determined the noise levels of popping balloons. They studied popping them with a pin, blowing them up until they ruptured and crushing them until they burst. The ruptured balloons clocked in at 168 decibels, four decibels louder than a 12-gauge shotgun.
Sydlowski advises parents to use phone apps to test the sound levels of toys before buying them. “Toys that make noise at or above 85 dBA can contribute to noise-induced hearing loss. If they come in at 85 decibels or higher when holding your phone microphone near them, like your child would hold the toy near their own ear, don’t buy them. It isn’t worth the risk. Remember, the louder the sound, the faster the damage and damage continues with exposure.”
While hearing loss numbers are rising in adults in the U.S., the total number of children with some type of hearing loss is unknown and many cases go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
“A child with just minimal hearing loss can be missing 50 percent of classroom discussion,” Sydlowski explained. These children will need to use extra effort in order to hear what is being said and they often become distracted and exhausted by the end of the day. These characteristics can be mistaken for learning disabilities when what the child needs is management of the hearing loss, typically in the form of hearing aids and other assistive listening devices.
Reduced hearing can lead to behavioral issues, lack of focus, even depression in children. Children with hearing loss often don’t recognize that they can’t hear and parents don’t always know the signs.
Sydlowski cautioned, “Loud toys aren’t just annoying to parents, they can be a danger to children. Parents should exercise caution when buying toys with sound, including video games. With toys and games where you can turn the sound down, set the sound at an acceptable, non-harmful level and teach children to keep them at that level. Also, be vigilant about any signs that may indicate your child is having difficulty with their hearing. If you have any concerns about your child’s hearing, have a comprehensive hearing test with an audiologist.”
The American Academy of Audiology provides a list of licensed audiologists on its website. Click on “Find an Audiologist.”