Photo credit: dolanh licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Every year for the last several years one publication or another, or these days one web site or another, has published a list of too-noisy toys that might harm a child’s hearing. This report from AZ BigMedia lists toys found to be too loud by the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ADCHH). The loudest toys made noise of 85 decibels (dB) or louder. The report quotes the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association as stating that 85 dB is the maximum volume a child should be exposed to for no more than eight hours a day.

The list of toys is a good one, but the advice about safe noise levels for children is not. As best as I can tell, there are no evidence-based safe noise exposure levels for children. No researcher has ever exposed children to loud noise and measured what happens to their hearing. That study just wouldn’t be ethical.

85 dB is derived from the 85 dBA (A-weighted decibels) recommended occupational noise exposure level, first calculated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 1972 and revised in 1998. At 85 dBA, 8% of exposed workers will develop noise-induced hearing loss. An industrial-strength noise exposure level that doesn’t even protect all workers from hearing loss is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears, which must last her an entire lifetime.

I wrote about safe noise exposure levels for the public in the American Journal of Public Health and the difference between an occupational exposure level and one for the public was discussed in a NIOSH Science Blog post.

The best advice for parents and grandparents when selecting toys for their little darlings? If a toy sounds too loud, it is too loud. Protect their hearing and don’t buy it for them this holiday season.

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