Recently, my 5-month-old niece, Amber, was gifted a variety of interactive toys to help her stay busy during a road trip. My sister showed me one of these fun new gadgets, a DJ panda with a turntable that made record-scratching and drum sound effects. It had over one thousand positive reviews on Amazon and the Target website. I asked if she could please test the volume of the toy before giving it to Amber – not only for the sanity of the driver and other passengers during the three-hour trip, but also to ensure my baby niece would stay safe while playing with it.
As recommended by professionals, the sound test procedure would be to use a sound level meter or app (see below) designed to measure sound levels. Position the meter at about an arm’s length from the toy or device. Allow the toy to run for about 15-30 seconds and observe the levels on the meter.
Sure enough, the toy registered at 80 decibels (dB) when hitting some of its buttons. For comparison, that is around the same volume as an alarm clock or power lawnmower. According to hearing care professionals, infants should not be exposed to noise above 60dB1. My sister tested other toys with noisy features, and several also tested beyond the 60dB threshold.
Although the American Society for Testing and Materials requires toys to emit noise no louder than 85dB at 50cm (20 inches) from the surface of the toy, this level is based on adult hearing levels and many manufacturers still exceed this requirement. On a test of 2021 popular Christmas toys, the top five loudest toys exceeded 100dB – rock concert levels!
Children are more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) because their auditory systems are still developing. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause irreversible damage to their delicate inner ear structures. This damage can manifest as hearing loss or other hearing-related issues later in life and further create barriers to language development.
How to protect your child’s hearing health
As parents and caregivers, it's our responsibility to ensure our children's safety and well-being in every aspect of their lives, including their playtime. While noisy toys may provide entertainment, they also pose a risk to our children's hearing health. By being vigilant and making informed choices when selecting toys, we can protect children from the silent dangers of harmful volumes and promote a lifetime of healthy hearing – and maybe protect parents’ hearing (and even sanity) along the way. Remember, a quieter toy might just be the best gift you can give to your child's future hearing health.
For questions about your child’s hearing health, contact a licensed hearing care professional: https://www.hearing.org/find-a-hearing-professional/