Noisy Toys: Turning Down the Volume can make a Difference

"Beep! Beep! Beep!" sounds the alarm in the all too early hours of the morning. We start our day with a jolt of sound to wake us up and get us going. We hear the sound of the baby laughing as another day of wonder arrives. She gurgles and coos with delight as you give "raspberries" on her tummy or play with your voice to make your own silly sounds. The kettle sings and you can hear the muffled voices of the other children in the house as they move about, getting themselves ready for another busy day.

There is no escaping it. The world of sound surrounds us and while many sounds bring comfort, sometimes sound can be a bit overwhelming, especially when there are many things going on at once, like the television, conversation, noisy toys, etc. Sometimes, sound can be dangerous and destructive. For these hazardous sounds, while there may be no trouble hearing them, what many people don't realize is how much damage they can do, especially to young ears.

Currently there is much research being done into the effects of loud noise on children. It has been found that loud noise can affect learning and communication. The incidence of hearing loss among children is rising. It has been documented that "...over the last 10 years the percentage of 2nd graders with hearing loss has increased 2.8 times; hearing loss in 8th graders has increased over 4 times" (Montgomery and Fujikawa, 1996). Researchers are developing programs designed just for kids to not only teach them how to recognize dangerous sound levels, but to help them change their attitudes and behaviours towards protecting their hearing, and how to use hearing protection devices properly. The hopeful news is that hearing loss due to loud sounds (referred to as noise-induced hearing loss, or N-IHL) is 100% preventable.

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable!

We hear from birth


Our inner ears are fully formed at birth. The delicate hair cells and the minute workings of the inner ear, or cochlea, are completely functional from the moment we take our first breath. Unlike other cells, such as skin cells, or liver cells, the delicate hair cells in the inner ear do not grow back or regenerate if they are damaged. Normal, healthy hair cells stand straight and tall so they can receive incoming information from the outside world. When there is damage, they become bent, distorted, or missing and are unable to receive signals from the outside world. Our ears are always "on", so they record our 'lifetime dose' of sound. It all adds up. If they are abused by listening to loud sounds for extended periods of time, they will eventually begin to function abnormally and the result is permanent hearing loss. A hearing loss can greatly affect one's quality of life.

Hair Cells

Noisy toys can be hazardous

When it comes to noise in the home, there are lots of sources. One common source of noise is the toys children play with. While toys are an important part of childhood development, it is also important to be aware of the noise some toys make and how that noise may impact your child's hearing.

Toys are regulated by Health Canada's Hazardous Products Act which specifies how loud toys can be. The Canadian Association for Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists (CASLPA) has worked with the National Coalition for Noisy Toys to get the message out that noise from toys can damage children's hearing. The experts are calling for reforms of the Hazardous Products Act which would significantly reduce the maximum allowable noise level for toys sold in Canada.

Currently, toys that have a maximum loudness level of 100 dBA (decibels) are permitted under the Hazardous Products Act. If this level were to be calculated in a similar fashion to that used for workplace noise standards, this dangerous noise level would not be permitted for adults for more than 15 minutes, based on an 8-hour work day. In the US, the maximum permitted loudness for toys is 80 dBA. Studies suggest that noise levels of some toys do exceed the regulated maximum levels and cause permanent damage to a child's hearing. In some cases the noise exposure from the toy can leave the child with tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.

Tips for Safe Play

The Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists and the National Coalition for Noisy Toys recommend the following guidelines:

  • Purchase toys that have on/off switches
  • Purchase toys that have a volume control
  • Check for noise level labels on toys
  • Listen to the toy yourself before making a purchase
  • Reduce time your child spends playing with noisy toys
  • Remove the batteries from noisy toys
  • Teach your children about potential danger to their ears from noisy toys and noisy activities
  • Supervise children when they play with toys that emit sounds.
  • Discuss with children the proper way to handle their toys. Toys should be played with at arms length, not at face or ear level
  • Turn down the volume of toys with headsets (this includes personal stereos)
  • Purchase alternate toys such as books and puzzles that help develop language and literacy skills

Supervision is important as often children will play with the toys in ways that the manufacturer has not intended. They may hold toys that make noise too close to another child's ear, resulting in unsafe exposures to loud sounds. Some toys allow the volume to be set at unsafe listening levels and a child may listen for extended periods of time, increasing the risk of damage due to noise exposure.

Here are some great alternatives for play and learning experiences to toys that are noisy:

  • Activities that encourage creative play, such as painting, drawing, or sculpting with clay
  • Take a trip to the local library to get some fun books
  • Visit a local science or art museum. Some may even have a dedicated children's section
  • Organize a picnic and go exploring in your own neighbourhood

Parents are becoming more educated and are making better choices when it comes their child's hearing health. You can also reinforce the importance of good listening habits by protecting your hearing by keeping the volume set to moderate levels and by wearing hearing protection when you are exposed to loud noise. Even children with a hearing loss need to learn that they must take care to protect what hearing they do have as their ears are especially vulnerable to further loss if exposed to loud sounds.


What about tweens and teens? Read More »

Noisy Toys
Noisy Toys: Turning Down the Volume can make a Difference
There is no escaping it. The world of sound surrounds us and while many sounds bring comfort, sometimes sound can be a bit overwhelming, especially when there are many things going on at once, like the television, conversation, noisy toys, etc.
Noisy Toys: What about Tweens and Teens?
More than ever before, we are a society that is constantly "plugged in and turned on". With the miniaturization of electronics it is possible to take our music and our games with us.