Question of the Week

December 15, 2003


How is your hearing?

"Children's toys are often very noisy. In some cases, they constitute a direct danger to children's hearing ability. Some types of battery-driven toy guns and pistols can - when used in ordinary play - create noise of between 110 and 135 dB, corresponding to the noise generated by a heavy truck or of a typical rock concert. Less, but consistent, noise from music boxes or robots (85-95 dB) can also be damaging. In many workplaces, employees are recommended to wear hearing protection where noise levels exceed 85 dB."

Depending on whether you are the one playing with the toy, or not, you may consider the noise from toys a positive aspect or an additional annoyance. While rarely do people consider this noise a health hazard,

"Almost 15 percent of children ages 6 to 17 show signs of hearing loss, according to a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, at this time there are no federal regulations in the United States that limit the noise levels of toys."

Consumers, kids, and parents may never think about the affects, but it is something that has been concerning people who study such things for years. "Toys are too noisy! This is the message we are hearing from a growing number of experts on noise and hearing loss, who warn us that an array of children's toys - from baby rattles and young children's squeaky toys to older children's cap guns-are so loud that they are hazardous to children's hearing....

"Presently the Hazardous Products Act of Canada prohibits the sale of any toy that makes or emits sound exceeding 100 decibels, measured at the distance that the toy 'ordinarily would be from the ear of the child using it.' Toys producing noise of an explosive nature, such as firecrackers or toys imitating firearms, are exempt from the Hazardous Products Act's sound level regulations. The safety of these toys is regulated by the Explosives Division of Energy Mines and Resources Canada. There are no Canadian noise level standards for fireworks, with the exception of toy pistol caps, which must not exceed 153 decibels measured at a distance of 45 centimetres from a cap -a noise level higher than that near a jet engine!...

"According to the Montreal researchers, recent research tends to show that the inner ear of the child is more sensitive to noise and may be susceptible to hearing loss for noise exposures that are safe for adults. They feel, then, that no child's toy should make noise exceeding 75 decibels, regardless of the amount of time that the child might play with it....

"A 1989 University of Montreal study found that almost 85% of children's toys on the Quebec market exceed the World Health Organization's noise limit, and are hazardous to children's hearing. In fact, some toys exceed even the 100 decibel limits imposed by the Hazardous Products Act."

So, what does this mean for you?

"In a recent study by the League for the Hard of Hearing (1998), 46% of third-graders reported that their ears ring sometimes (a warning sign of a potential noise-induced hearing loss). Recreational activities contribute to the cumulative effects of excessive noise exposure....In general, the louder the sound, the less time required before hearing will be affected. Experts agree that continued exposure to noise above 85 dBA will eventually harm your hearing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that hearing protection be worn in the workplace when loudness levels and exposure time exceed the allowable standards. For example, 15 minutes exposure at 115 dBA is considered dangerous to hearing and even an exposure of less than 2 minutes at 130 dBA may be hazardous to hearing. While regulations exist to protect a person's hearing in the workplace, similar regulations do not exist to protect the public's hearing in recreational activities...."

How loud are the activities that you enjoy?

"Some Examples of Dangerously Loud Recreational Activities

  • Noise levels at video arcades can be as high as 110 dBA.
  • Firecrackers create sound levels from 125 - 155 dBA at an average distance of 10 feet.
  • Sound levels at live music concerts can be measured at 120 dBA and beyond.
  • The noise level of gunshots can be measured at 150 dBA -167 dBA and hearing loss can result from just a few shots of a high powered gun, if appropriate hearing protection is not worn.
  • Noise levels at movie theaters have been measured up to 118 dBA.
  • Sound levels in health clubs and aerobic studios can be as high as 120 dBA.
  • Personal stereo systems with headphones produce sounds as loud as 105 - 120 dBA if turned up to maximum levels.
  • Sound levels at a sporting event can be measured up to 127 dBA.
  • Motorboats emit sound levels ranging from 85 - 115 dBA.
  • Motorcycles have been measured at levels ranging from 95 - 120 dBA.
  • Noise levels of snowmobiles are as high as 99 dBA.
  • Many children's toys emit sounds which are measured at 135 dBA -150 dBA.
  • Noise levels from 'Boom Cars' have been measured at 140dBA and beyond."

Questions of the Week:
How loud are the activities that you enjoy? How can you know if the activities you are choosing for fun may damage your hearing if no standards exist? What do you need to know in order to make educated and common sense decisions regarding the present state--and future--of your hearing? How can kids and parents get the information they need to take responsibility for their own hearing? Should toy producers be required to include decibel levels on toy packaging as a health and safety warning to consumers?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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