Audiology expert urges caution in selecting loud toys for children

As the holidays approach, toy store shelves are stocked with toys that make noise. While toys with sound may be appealing to children, William Clark, Ph.D., director of audiology and communication sciences at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, cautions parents to be careful in choosing such toys.

William Clark, director of audiology and communication sciences, uses an acoustic mannequin to demonstrate the effects of certain toys and popular electrical gadgets on the hearing of children.

Toys that are too loud as well as iPods® and other popular MP3 players can damage sensitive hair cells that line the inner ear and perceive sound. If the exposure is repetitive, permanent hearing loss can result.

The sound of a toy may not appear to be too loud when it is in the packaging, Clark says, so he advises gift-givers to hold the toy up to their ears to see how it sounds at close range. Children may be closer to a toy’s sound source than an adult. Case in point: children playing with a noisy toy on the floor often hold their head within inches of its speaker.

Digital audio players come with ear buds that fit into the ear canal and enclose the sound in a small space next to the eardrum. To prevent permanent damage, Clark suggests keeping the volume setting at “6” or below and not listening for more than 60 minutes at a time. If someone can hear earphone leakage from several feet away, it is probably too loud, he says.

“Hearing loss accumulates over a lifespan,” Clark says. “Once your hearing is gone, it’s permanent. Hearing aids help treat the problem, but they don’t restore hearing, they just make sounds louder.”