Telephones, musical trains, dolls, learning boards, musical instruments: sound toys are becoming more and more numerous in the toy boxes of young children. Despite this popularity, caution is needed because these toys can cause hearing problems in children.
The risks of noisy toys
Children are more vulnerable to sound than adults because they don’t always have the reflex to protect themselves from loud noises. It is therefore important to protect the hearing of toddlers and avoid exposing them to loud sounds.
Sound-emitting toys that emit more than 100dB of sound can cause damage to children’s ears after only 2 minutes of exposure. Electronic devices, such as tablets and smartphones, that are used by younger and younger children can easily exceed 100 dB and thus pose a risk to children’s hearing.
Generally, toddlers’ interest in a toy is fairly short. Therefore, they are not exposed to loud noises for long periods of time. However, because children tend to bring noisy toys close to their ears, and even put them in their mouths, they may hear louder noises than expected. This is because toy manufacturers base the sound level of a toy on the distance it should normally be held from the ear. Many toys, when played at too close a range, can pose a risk to a toddler’s ears.
Exposure to loud noises can cause hearing fatigue, which can make a child’s ears feel blocked and prevent them from hearing properly. This fatigue can also cause a continuous ringing or whistling in the child’s ears called tinnitus. The child’s hearing returns to normal in a quiet environment. However, over time, repeated exposure to loud noises can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Canadian regulations on noisy toys
In Canada, by law, no toy may emit sound in excess of 100 decibels (dB), which is the noise in a nightclub or from a jackhammer within 5 meters. This law was enacted in 1970 and has never been amended. Audiologists believe that the levels allowed in Canada for noisy toys are potentially harmful to children’s ears.
By comparison, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recommends a limit of 65 dB for toys intended to be handled close to the ear and 85 dB for other toys. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers 75 dB to be the accepted safe standard for noise exposure.
Should I avoid noisy toys?
Some noisy toys can be interesting and stimulating for toddlers. There is no need to ban these toys, but you should take the time to choose them carefully.
Here are some tips for choosing a sound toy:
Ask yourself about the usefulness of the toy’s sound effects before you buy it. For example, is the siren sound necessary on a fire truck? The silent one might be a good fit for your child as well. He or she can make the truck sounds themselves. Plus, you’ll save money because you won’t have to buy batteries.
Look for sound toys that add something to the game, such as a toy or book that allows your toddler to listen to or make music, learn a song, or discover the sounds of different animals.
Battery-free rattles and stuffed animals are easier to wash and provide just as much, if not more, interest over time.
Make sure the sounding toy offers a variety of activities to keep your child interested long enough. If the only action you can do is press a button, your toddler may quickly lose interest in the toy.
Look for toys that have an on/off button and a volume control.
Use your own judgement when assessing the loudness of a toy, as the information on the packaging is often insufficient. In addition, some toys in stores do not have demonstration batteries and others may have an amplified sound (to counteract ambient noise) that stops working as soon as the toy is unwrapped.
Talk to your family and friends before a party (birthday or Christmas) to make sure your child doesn’t just get noisy toys as gifts.
Preventing hearing loss
Here’s what you can do to protect your child’s ears, without taking away from the fun.
Avoid buying too many noisy toys. Many toys are just as good at being quiet.
Turn down the volume as much as possible and ask your child not to turn it up.
Remove the batteries if sound is not an essential part of the game.
Tape the speaker if you think the sound is too loud.
Offer quiet play after several minutes of playing with a loud toy. Quiet play time helps your toddler focus and learn to be quiet.
Limit the amount of noise around your toddler at home. This is a way to rest his ears and facilitate his learning, since children’s environment is increasingly noisy (television, radio, noise at daycare, noisy toys, etc.).
Beware of headphones!
Headphones are useful on occasion to allow your child to listen to shows and music on a smartphone or tablet. However, before you put them on, try them out to adjust the volume. Start by setting the volume on the headphones as low as possible. If you need to turn it up, avoid turning it up to more than half capacity. Also, choose a quiet place for your toddler to sit. This helps your child hear the music or program without having to turn it up. Also, limit the amount of time he spends with headphones. Some professionals recommend no more than one hour of headphone use per day.
Things to remember
Toddlers tend to bring noisy toys close to their ears, which can be a risk to their hearing.
Limiting the number of noisy toys your child plays with is a good way to protect them from loud noises.
You can limit the harmful effects of noisy toys by turning the volume down to a minimum, taping over the toy’s speaker, or removing the batteries if the sound is not needed for play.