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Noisy Toys May Give Kids an Earful

Expert Recommends a 'Noise Diet' to Save Our Hearing
WebMD Health News

Dec. 15, 2006 -- Attention, parents: If your children get noisy toys this holiday season, make sure they play with them safely.

"We hope parents will monitor their children's play with a noisy toy -- make sure they are not sticking the toy in their ear or using the toy for more than an hour a day," Bradford C. Backus, PhD, tells WebMD in an email.

Backus works at University College London's Ear Institute. He recently tested a variety of toys that make sounds to check for loudness.

"Most of the toys we tested were 'safe' when used responsibly," he says, calling toy cap guns "the most worrying of the toys.

"We are not recommending that loud toys be banned or suggesting that manufacturers are not complying with regulations," Backus says. "Indeed, by and large, they are complying."

But, he added, people need to keep better track of how much loud noise their ears are subjected to. And kids have special risks.

Cap Guns Are Noisy Toys

"Of course, we all know that you cannot predict what children are going to do," says Backus.

"If they butter the cat, pour lemonade in your shoe, and feed cookies to the VCR, they just might stick a toy in their ears," he says.

Backus measured the noise made by toys, including toy guns, a toy phone, toy cars, and toys that play nursery rhymes or the alphabet.

Toy cap guns presented the greatest concern.

"This is because the little muscles and neural circuitry that are built into our ears to help protect them from noise can't act fast enough to protect them from these very sudden sounds [produced by the guns]," Backus says.

"Also, these cap guns are very loud," he adds. "They definitely should not be fired indoors."

'Noise Diet'

ASTM International, a worldwide voluntary standards development organization, recommends decibel limits for sound-producing toys.

But toy makers aren't required to meet those standards, notes the Minnesota-based Sight and Hearing Association.

"The take-home message for parents is: Let's start teaching children and ourselves about a noise diet," Backus says.

He explains that "most people today understand that a healthy nutritional diet prevents heart diseaseheart disease and leads to a more active old age. The same is true of hearing health; we should introduce the concept of a noise diet."

People typically don't think about the health of their hearing until later in life, Backus says.

"Part of the reason we neglect our hearing early on is because hearing loss generally develops gradually over a lifetime and is painless," he says.

"Most of us understand that excessive noise exposure is bad, but the idea that we should keep track of our daily noise exposure hasn't caught on yet," he observes.

"Looking at how much noise the toys our children play with produce and how our children play with them is just one stop on the way to lifelong healthy hearing," Backus says.

Tips on Noisy Toys

The Sight and Hearing Association offers these tips about noisy toys:

  • Listen to a toy before you buy it. If it seems loud to you, it's too loud for your child.
  • Report a loud toy to the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772.
  • Put masking tape or packing tape over the speaker on the toy to reduce the volume.

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