Toys With All the Bells and Whistles Can Damage Hearing
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 25, 1999 (Atlanta) -- It's about the last thing parents think about,
with all the stress and excitement surrounding the holidays. But an expert at
Baylor College of Medicine in Houston is warning that some playthings can
And she's not just talking about such obvious ear-busting toys as musical
instruments or stereo systems. "Some of the video games get quite loud, and
the biggest problem is that kids get really close down to the game," says
Lois Sutton, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of otorhinolaryngology (ear,
nose, and throat). "But we were kind of surprised by some things. We had a
toddler train with some whistles, and it was loud enough to be concerned
Sutton also mentions toy phones as being a particular problem -- with some
emitting decibel levels approaching that of a jackhammer.
Sutton explains that the eardrums of children take a more intense hit from
loud noises than they do in adults, because children have shorter hearing
canals. Also, because of the way in which kids often play with toys -- up
close, personal, and for extended periods of time -- even relatively quiet toys
can cause harm.
And toys are just the tip of the iceberg, Sutton says. "They go to
concerts. Parents take them to noisy events. Truck pulls -- they are incredibly
loud. Kids going with dad to the shop. So all of these things add up, and we
see the beginnings of hearing loss."
That process is only aggravated when kids enter the boom box and personal
stereo system years. Henry J. Ilecki, PhD, director of audiology practice for
industry and private practice at the American Speech-Language-Hearing
Association in Washington, D.C., says he's amazed by what some children (and
adults) are doing to their ears.
"I was on a New York City subway train. It's steel on steel -- they
don't run on rubber wheels. There was a kid sitting across from me wearing a
Walkman-like device. ... I could hear his music across the aisle over the din
of the subway train," Ilecki tells WebMD. "He must have been listening
to 100-110 decibels."
Ilecki points out that anything over 90 decibels can potentially harm the
ears -- especially if listened to for an extended period of time.
He says it used to be a safe generalization that hearing loss caused by
nerve damage was confined to adults. "But now there is so much more noise
-- even more than 20 years ago," Ilecki says, and that puts everyone at
"An important message is that although some hearing losses are
reversible, that is not the case with noise-induced hearing loss," Ilecki
says -- and even worse, it's hard to spot. "I'm afraid that at the early
stages symptoms would be so subtle you could not detect it behaviorally -- only
He advises that parents whose children have noisy habits -- whether they are
permanently hooked to headphones or have season concert tickets -- to have the
children's hearing checked. "The good news is that this is something that
is totally preventable," Ilecki says. "You're the master of your own
destiny; once you know the relationship between noise and hearing loss you can
As for those holiday toys, Sutton says, if you can't talk over it, can't
hear over it, or if it causes any pain or ringing in your ears -- don't use