List reveals hidden dangers of too-noisy toys

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Aside from being just plain annoying, those noisy toys your children receive this Christmas may produce unsafe levels of sound.

Parents may be surprised to learn that some of their children's favorite toys might be on this year's "Noisy Toy List." Major toy companies such as Fisher-Price, Hasbro, Mattel and others all have products on this year's list.

For the past 14 years, the Sight & Hearing Association and researchers at the University of Minnesota have been testing noisy children's toys to make sure they don't pose a hearing risk.

This year's testing revealed that 19 of the 24 toys that were tested produced sound over 100 decibels (dB). To be considered safe, sounds should not exceed 85 dB.

One of the most disturbing finds this year was a storybook meant for an 18-month old that hit a whopping 118 dB during testing. Sounds levels at or above 120 dB have the potential to cause instant and irreversible hearing loss.

Amazingly, there were no industry guidelines on sound levels produced by toys until as recently as 2009.

However, as this year's testing clearly demonstrates, the new regulations have proven to be far too lax for toy companies and toys that produce hazardous levels of sound are still being sold at major retailers all over the country.

Since most children play with a toy at arm's length, or in some cases put their ears right up to the speaker, Sight & Hearing Association researchers measure sound levels at the speaker of the toy and also at a distance of about 10 inches (arm's length for young child).

These measurements are considered to be a more accurate reflection of real-world use.

Because noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and almost always preventable, protecting children at a young age is critical. Here's some simple tips to keep your family safe this holiday season:

Listen to a toy before you buy it. If it sounds loud to you, it's too loud for your child.

Report a loud toy. Call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772 or the Sight & Hearing Association at 1-800-992-0424 or email reportatoy@sightandhearing.org.

Put masking tape over the speaker on the toy to help reduce the overall volume.

Noise measurement apps are available for download to your smartphone and can be used to indicate if the noise levels are safe.

Buy toys with volume controls.

Finally, read the list of offenders at ubne.ws/vudyq9.

Dr. Kevin Liebe is an audiologist at Columbia Basin Hearing & Balance Center (www.columbiabasinhearing.com). In 2009 he co-authored two articles published in the scientific journal Noise & Health.

Online resources

Sight Hearing Association: www.sightandhearing.org

American Academy of Audiology: www.howsyourhearing.com

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