In November each year, the Sight & Hearing Association puts out their annual Noisy Toys List. As parents we know these toys can be annoying, but some toys are so noisy they can actually be dangerous.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Sound is measured in decibels, and sounds that are very loud can permanently damage hearing. Our ears are amazing structures, with tiny hair cells that help us hear. When these hair cells are damaged by loud noises, they can’t be repaired…that damage is permanent.
I used to do a demonstration in schools with pipe cleaners. If you take a bunch of new pipe cleaners in your hand and crush them from the top, they get all wonky and bent out of shape. No matter how hard you try to straighten them, it’s impossible. This is kind of like the hair cells in our inner ears, although very simplified.
When we, or our kids, are exposed to loud noise, whether for a short or long period of time, we risk doing damage to our hearing, and this is called noise induced hearing loss, since it’s hearing loss caused by noise.
How Loud Are They?
One of the ways kids are being exposed to noise, even at very young ages, is through noisy toys. My own kids were recently given a gift that ended up being very noisy. And as much as we’d like to avoid the noisy toys all together, sometimes these are favorites, or given by special gift givers.
The picture below shows one way we can monitor some of the noise coming from these toys. This is a picture of my Apple Watch, which is equipped with the Noise App (it’s a little yellow ear icon). When I put the watch right up to the speaker of the toy, it was reading between 95-100 decibels. For reference, other sounds around this level would be a subway, motorcycle, or siren for an ambulance.
If you don’t have an Apple Watch with a built in noise meter, look for a sound level meter app or noise monitor app. Before I had this Apple Watch I was using Decibel X to monitor noisy situations.
Now, my kids aren’t going to be putting their ears directly next to the speaker like my watch was, but even so, 95-100 decibels is way too loud for a toy!
Fixing Those Noisy Toys
So, what do you do about those toys that are just too noisy? If you can’t get rid of it or take the batteries out, covering the speaker with clear packing tape can help. In this case, I just cut a small piece of packing tape, slightly larger than the speaker, and then made sure to smooth it down so the edges wouldn’t be super visible to my kids (prompting them to try to pull it off).
As you can see in the photo, adding the clear packing tape took the decibel level at the speaker from 94 decibels down to 75, which is a big change. Also, since I know my children aren’t using this toy with the speaker up to their ears, I know the sound will be less as it reaches them and I feel a lot better about letting them use it.