Here’s another guest post from dear CHC friend Dr. Krystyann Krywko, who recently mentioned to me how crazy it makes her that some toys are just so LOUD! CHC’s Noise Center has long been home to “Noisy Toys” experts, from back when we were the League for the Hard of Hearing – our resident noise expert Nancy Nadler, M.E.D., M.A. appeared on the Today Show to talk about gratuitously loud gizmos. Here’s Dr. Krywko’s take.

At age three, Krystyann’s son was diagnosed with a hearing loss that wasn’t present at birth. She wrote a book about the experience – Late Onset Hearing Loss: A Parent’s Perspective of What to Do When Your Child is Diagnosed. Her story took another turn when soon after she discovered her own late-onset hearing loss; wearing hearing aids is a mother-son experience in the Krywko family! Having earned her Doctorate of Eduction at Columbia University, Krystyann is a researcher and writer on childhood hearing loss.

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Spring’s finally here. With any luck, any eardrum-rattling toys given to your children from way back in the holiday season have since broken.

Kidding aside: children’s toys are LOUD. In fact, some toys designed for the preschool set tested by the Sight & Hearing Association blared at 129.2 and 119.5 decibels (that’s about as loud as a rock concert… or an airliner at takeoff!).

Children’s Ears Are Much More Sensitive Than Adults’

Noise isn’t good for you either, but when your child is immersed in loudness she is more susceptible to noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), which is permanent.

“Once you lose your hearing from noise, you can’t get it back. But noise-induced hearing loss is preventable,” Nancy Nadler (who is also the Director of Development at CHC) tells us. She also says “it’s never too early for hearing conservation,” and she loves this picture of an NFL quarterback celebrating at the Superbowl holding his young son, baby-sized hearing protection firmly in place on those little ears.

What to Do About Noisy Toys

  • If the toy you are buying comes with a warning that it shouldn’t be held close to ear, that’s code for danger. Children rarely play with a toy the specific way that a manufacturer recommends, so if there’s any warning at all, you’re better off choosing another option.
  • The tape trick. If your child is absolutely set on a particular toy, or your child receives a noisy toy as a gift, try putting clear masking tape over the speakers to help reduce the volume.
  • Noise + small spaces = not good. Be alert to this equation; noisy toys become amplified in small indoor spaces. If certain toys’ noises cause you to raise an eyebrow when inside, designate them “outdoor-only” toys where the noise can be dispersed (some trucks and musical instruments would fit here).
  • Play with the toy as much as you can at the store. The kids don’t usually object to this one. Press buttons, pull levers, look if there is an off switch or mute button. If the toy sounds too loud to you at the store, then it’s too loud for your child, and you won’t like having it in your house!
  • Forget the earbuds! Child friendly headphones should be included with mp3 players and handheld video games. They limit volume and are much safer than earbuds. Sony, KidzGear, and Maxell offer headphones designed specifically for children and that have volume protection features.
  • It’s not just volume – it’s how long they listen. The maximum volume level on the typical mp3 player is 105 dB, but listening to music at only 85 dB for a prolonged period of time risks hearing loss. Manufacturers are responding to the dangers of noise on young ears by providing consumer options, but you have to look for these solutions. For example, parents are able to lock the volume at a specific limit on all Apple products. No matter how much a child “cranks” the volume button the sound will not go above the preset level.
  • Your children will “get it.” Talking to your kids about how something that’s too loud now could mean they hear less the future might sound a little abstract. But it’s important to explain how noise affects their hearing using age-appropriate language. We tell our kids what’s good for their muscles, their teeth, and more, but we also need to get across the message that hearing health is just as important as taking take of the rest of the body.

Everyday, parents are bombarded with news of the danger that this or that every day item or action can cause, and I think we can become desensitized to it. But noisy toys aren’t like that. We know what the danger is, and we can easily avoid it by being aware and making some very subtle changes. Hearing is everything: communication, access, learning, social life, and the beauty of sound – it isn’t worth risking any of it for noisy toys.