Many popular toys that are readily available in stores emit noise levels that could be harmful to a young child’s hearing, particularly because their bodies are still developing. The risk depends on the loudness of the noise level and how long the child is exposed to it. In general, if you have to raise your voice above the noise level to be heard, the sound is too loud. Very loud noises, such as those made by a whistle or cap gun, can instantly and permanently damage a child’s hearing, especially if held close to the ear for a prolonged period of time.
The Hearing Foundation of Canada is a charter member of the National Coalition on Noisy Toys, which aims to educate parents about the hazards of noisy toys.
This Coalition suggests that when making toy purchases, parents give preference to toys equipped with a volume button and an on/off button, limit the amount of time young children spend with battery-operated toys, find ways of lowering the volume (by using tape to cover the loudspeaker, for example) and remove the batteries.
How Does Playing with Toys Cause Hearing Loss?
Young children will often bring toys close to their face and ears as part of the learning process. This can increase the risk of harm to their small and sensitive ears, if the toy was designed to be held further away from the body during play. Since sound volume goes down as it moves away from its source, bringing a toy closer to the ears will have the effect of making it louder.
What Does the Law Say?
Decibel levels for toys are measured based on intended use. Toys that emit more than 100dB when held at a child’s arm-length are banned by Health Canada under the Hazardous Products Act. (Regulations in the US and Europe are 70 dB and 80 dB at the ear, respectively.)
How Loud is Too Loud?
Sound levels are measured in decibels (dBs). To know if a sound is loud enough to damage a child’s hearing, it is important to know the level of intensity (in dBs) and the length of exposure to the sound. The higher the decibel level above what is considered safe and the longer time exposed to the noise (85dB for 8 hours), the more likely it will cause harm. Generally, for every 3 dB increase you must cut the duration of the exposure by half (ex., 88dB should be limited to 4 hours, 91dB for 2 hours,etc.)
The sound measurements in the following table are based on a toy being held at a distance of 25 centimetres from the body. Although not all toys are this loud, the risk depends on the noise level, how the toy is used and the amount of daily exposure to the toy. Some toy cap guns can also reach decibel levels of 110 to 135, a level of noise similar to a rock concert or a jet take off.
Popular Noisy Toys
|dB Level *||dB Level *|
|Toy cap gun||105 – 110||CD player||97 – 103|
* Peak dB levels, measurements taken by the Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centres
To help people make safe purchases, portable sound level meters are often available at higher end music and electronic stores.
Teach your children to protect themselves:
- Encourage children to keep the volume adjusted low
- Encourage quieter games and activities; substitute loud activities with quiet toys and games
- Teach your children about the potential damage to their ears from noise