Are loud toys damaging your kids' hearing?

Researchers warn that noisy holiday gifts like Let's Rock Elmo and the I Am T-Pain microphone may harm children's ears

A girl plays with Let's Rock Elmo at the toy's launch party: When held close to the ear, noisy playthings like Elmo can damage young children's hearing, according to researchers.
(Image credit: Facebook/Let's Rock! Elmo)

Raucous holiday celebrations may leave your ears ringing. But the worst offender might not be that egg-nog-swilling uncle clamorously belting Christmas carols. The most dangerous noisemaker might actually be sitting under your tree, according to a new study from the University of California, Irvine. Researchers tested a number of noisy children's toys, and found that several popular models were loud enough to damage your child's hearing when held close to the ear. Here's what you should know:

How loud do these toys get?

To find out, researchers tested two dozen popular toys in a soundproof booth, says United Press International. The 10 loudest toys exceeded 90 decibels when held next to the ear. A few were higher than 100 decibels. That's "equivalent to the noise of a chainsaw, subway train, or power mower."

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Which toys are we talking about?

Road Rippers Lightning Rod cars were the loudest, at 108 decibels when held near the ear. The I Am T-Pain microphone was second, at 101 decibels. Also on the list were Sesame Street's Let's Rock Elmo, Marvel's Super Shield Captain America, Whac-A-Mole, and Tonka's Mighty Motorized Firetruck.

Are these toys really dangerous?

"Generally, toys are safe if used properly," says UC Irvine's Dr. Hamid Djalilian. But remember, children are "very sensitive to loud and high-pitched sounds." Prolonged and unprotected exposure to noises above 85 decibels can lead to hearing loss, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. The key may be proper distance, says Djalilian. When toys were measured at a distance of 12 inches, instead of right next to the ear, the loudest was Elmo, at a relatively mild 74 decibels. Parents would be wise to make sure their kids keep noisy toys at arm's length.

Sources: Daily Mail, OC Register, United Press International

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