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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.

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