Is That Gift Safe for Little Ears?
Parents often complain that the sounds their children’s toys make are annoying. But more than that, some of the hottest toys on the shelves emit sounds loud enough to cause irreversible hearing loss. If you are choosing special gifts for your child or someone else’s, make sure you know what constitutes a safe toy for their developing ears.
Decibel level and proximity considerations
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), one of the most common types of permanent hearing loss, can be caused by exposure to sudden, extremely loud impulse noises, such as being near an explosion, or by repeated or continuous exposure to loud sounds. The United States Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), which ensures workplace safety, mandates that all employees who are exposed to more than 85 decibels (dB) of noise for more than 8 hours a day are required to wear ear protection. Yet, many toys sold in the US exceed this threshold, with some measuring as loud as 115+ dB. This is equivalent to the sound level of a jet taking off.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission follows The Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety ASTM F963-11, which states that the sounds produced by toys shall not exceed 85 dB at 50 cm, or approximately 20 inches, from the surface of the toy. At a glance, this 85 dB standard may seem consistent with OSHA guideline, especially since children are unlikely to listen to these toys continuously for 8 hours a day. But it is important to consider that children play with their toys significantly closer, sometimes with the speaker right up against their ears. This proximity means that even if a toy complies with the regulation, little ears could be exposed to sounds significantly exceeding 85 dB, and are therefore at risk of developing NIHL.
Tips for making safe gift selections
Ultimately, parents and other adult gift-givers are responsible for ensuring that children’s toys are not dangerously loud. Here are some tips for finding safe children’s gifts this holiday season:
- If a toy sounds too loud to you, it is too loud for a child. Remember that the child will probably be playing with it much closer than you are holding it.
- If you are concerned your own hearing loss prevents you from making an accurate assessment of how loud a gift is, or if you simply prefer a more concrete analysis, many apps for smartphones that measure sound level are available.
- The internet is a great resource for pointing out toys that are dangerously loud, or may be harmful for children in other ways. Do your research before you buy.
- If you determine that your child’s existing toy is too loud, put one or more layers of tape over the speakers to dampen the sound. To maintain the toy’s cosmetic appeal, use clear tape, or brightly-colored or patterned duct tape.
Noise-induced hearing loss is accumulative and irreversible. So as the adults, it is our responsibility to protect those little ears from day one.
Any toys the children in your life have that you think are too loud? Sound off in the comments!
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