News | Published December 21, 2014 | Written by Leslie Purcell, AuD, audiology, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Noisy toys can be harmful to children’s hearing

This is my favorite time of year. Decorating a tree, enjoying meals together as a family, and shopping for gifts are all great ways to celebrate the holiday season. One of the things that you may not realize, though, is that the toys your children are asking for may be harmful to their hearing.

Sure, it’s always funny to see the look on parents’ faces when their child opens the coolest drum set or the newest guitar on the market. What about the racetrack with real racetrack sounds? Children love noisy toys. They love to sing and dance along with the music of that new guitar, and boys especially love all the sound effects that go along with a new remote-control car or truck. But when you stop to think about it, some of these toys are really noisy.

Annually, the Sight & Hearing Association publishes a list of the noisiest toys of the year (check out their Facebook page for the details). I am always surprised that many of the top toys of the season typically appear on that list. Because you’re only given one precious set of ears, it’s important to recognize that exceptionally noisy toys can really affect your child’s hearing later in life.

Pay close attention the next time you watch children playing with a toy. It is frequently near their faces, and they are typically on the floor in close proximity to the toy.

Oftentimes, toys can produce sounds in excess of 100dB… louder than a lawn mower and almost as loud as a jet plane taking off! Federal regulations restrict exposure to noise of 100dB to only two hours per day. If employees in an industrial setting are exposed to noise of this level, they are required to wear hearing protection, so why do we allow our children to get by without any protection?

Even minimal exposure to these toys can do some serious damage to children’s hearing. Children’s ears are very sensitive to loud sounds, and over time, these noises damage structures in the ear. The effects may not be seen immediately, but noise at this level is painful, and children will have a cumulative impact throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Here are some tips to limit such exposure to noise and long-term hearing damage:

  • Test a toy in the store before buying it. If it sounds too loud to you, then it is too loud for your child. Either don’t purchase the toy, or limit the duration of play.
  • Turn the volume down if it has a variable volume control. If not, place clear packing tape over the speaker.
  • Monitor children’s play to ensure they are using the toys correctly and not holding them closer to their face or ears than necessary.
  • Now is also a great time to inventory your children’s current toys. If they’re too loud, consider replacing them with something less noisy.

Another popular item for older children is a music player and headphones/ear buds. Limiting use to one hour at a time is recommended, and the volume control should not be any louder than 50 percent.

By taking steps now to protect your child’s hearing, you can prevent hearing loss as they become adults. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable, and it is never too early to protect your hearing.


Dr. Purcell has been an audiologist for 10 years, and has enjoyed the past three years with Mount Nittany Physician Group. She and her husband, along with their two children, live in the Bald Eagle area. In the winter months, they enjoy hunting, sledding, snowman making, and cookie baking.