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When buying toys, consider your child’s hearing

December 14th, 2011 by qcurrie

In that mad rush to purchase toys for our children, we parents often do a pretty good job of keeping safety in mind.  Long gone are the wood burning kits, pellet guns and chemistry sets of my own childhood.  While I don’t advocate we secure our children in bubble wrap, or ban balls from the playground, there is one safety concern largely neglected even today…hearing loss.  Good hearing is a basic human necessity. The spoken word is one of the most complex and nuanced sounds we ever hear but we master it at a young age due largely to an acute and finely tuned sense of hearing.  Protecting a child’s hearing is not difficult but we’re not given any help by toy manufacturers or regulators.

For a toy to be sold in Canada, the maximum allowable noise level is 100dB and yet industrial workers are required to be protected at levels at or above 85dB.  In addition to toys, portable entertainment devices are often the gift of choice for young children.  These are potentially hazardous for several reasons: their output can well exceed 100dB, they can be worn for extended periods of time, and they are often turned up to hazardous levels to be heard over background noises such as in noisy cars, buses, airplanes or crowded areas.  Standards also do not take into account that toys are often held directly to the ear by children or that very young children may not have the capacity to move away from loud toys laid next to them.

While, the long-term effects of hazardous noise on a young ear are not well documented, permanent hearing loss rates among teenagers are clearly sky rocketing.  A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported incidents of hearing loss in teens at 19.5%, almost 30% higher than was reported just 10 years earlier.  Another recent study by the University of Florida found 25% of freshmen tested had hearing loss.  These are tragic numbers given that noise induced hearing loss is irreversible and 100% preventable!

So what can parents do?  First of all, simply keep safe sound levels in mind.  Just because a toy is marketed to children, doesn’t mean it’s sounds are safe.  Find a quiet corner of the store and listen to the toy.  Toys are made louder than necessary so they can be heard over the noise of a crowded department store and attract the attention of children and their parents.  If a toy sounds loud, don’t buy it.  Remember not only will you be saving your child’s hearing but you’ll save yourself the headache of listing to it over and over again as it wails away in your living room.  If a toy you already own is too loud, some duct tape placed over the speaker will muffle the sound so it can still be enjoyed.

For headphones a good rule of thumb is you must be able to carry on a normal conversation with someone 4 feet away.  If you can’t, it’s too loud.  To be certain, put a set of safe headphones under the tree, they’re inexpensive and have built-in limits which ensure safe enjoyment of iPods and MP3 players.  If your child reports any difficulty hearing or reports ringing, buzzing or funny sounds in their ears have their hearing tested by an Audiologist to see if they’ve done any damage.  By avoiding hearing loss this year you’ll be helping them enjoy the sounds of Christmas for a lifetime.

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