Do children’s Christmas toys pose a hearing risk?

Behind the Headlines

Monday December 19 2011

'Let's Rock Elmo' is one of 10 Christmas toy sounds tested

“Noisy Christmas toys risk damaging toddlers' hearing,” says The Daily Telegraph. The paper warned that certain popular Christmas toys “can be as loud as a chainsaw and risk permanently damaging toddlers’ hearing”.

This warning comes from researchers at the Department of Otolaryngology, University of California, Irvine, which measured how noisy a range of popular children’s toys is. It found that some toys could make noise at a level similar to a power saw.


How did the researchers find this out?

Who says science is dull? This research involved researchers going down to local toy shops and playing with Christmas 2011’s popular children’s toys and measuring their noise levels. This is likely to have involved pressing buttons on dinosaurs, shooting toy guns and generally pretending to be children with toys, all in the interests of serious research. The researchers then bought the 10 loudest toys and took them to the lab for more precise measurements of how loud they were in a soundproof booth. They measured the noisiest toys, both right next to the toys’ speakers, and at about 12 inches away, which is about the length that a toddler would hold the toy away from their body (arm’s length).

The research does not appear to have been published in a journal. The researchers have put out a press release about the results of their tests.


Why do research institutes put out press releases like this in December?

Even though it is not yet published research, this type of finding virtually guarantees news coverage with its festive twist, not to mention the thought of white-coated researchers shooting each other with Buzz Lightyear’s Cosmic Blaster and playing Whac-A-Mole.


How noisy were the toys?

The researchers found the following noise levels measured in decibels (dB) for the 10 noisiest toys:

  • Road Rippers Lightning Rods: 108dB at the speaker; 68dB at arm’s length (12 inches)
  • I Am T-Pain microphone: 101dB at the speaker; 64dB at arm’s length
  • Tonka Mighty Motorized Fire Truck: 100dB at the speaker; 69dB at arm’s length
  • Marvel Super Shield Captain America: 98dB at the speaker; 69dB at arm’s length
  • Whac-A-Mole game: 95dB at the speaker; 69dB at arm’s length
  • Tapz electronic reflex game: 95dB at the speaker; 65dB at arm’s length
  • Sesame Street Let's Rock Elmo: 95dB at the speaker; 74dB at arm’s length
  • VTech Magical Learning Wand: 94dB at the speaker; 69dB at arm’s length
  • Toy Story Buzz Lightyear Cosmic Blaster: 93dB at the speaker; 60dB at arm’s length
  • Green Lantern Colossal Cannon: 92dB at the speaker; 67dB at arm’s length

To put this into context, 110dB is the level of noise produced by a power saw and 90dB is the level of noise produced by an underground train. The American Academy of Otolaryngology suggests that unprotected exposure to sounds above 85dB for a prolonged period can lead to hearing loss.


Should I be concerned about this?

Parents should not be overly concerned by these findings. Although all 10 of the toys tested were over 85 decibels next to the speakers, they were all less than 85dB when held at arm’s length away from the noise recorder. The likelihood is that children will not play with them for a prolonged period.

If parents are concerned, they can avoid (and ask others to avoid) buying their child noisy toys.

The researchers suggest that parents buying toys for toddlers listen to the toy while holding it near to their ears before they buy it. If it sounds too loud to them then the researchers sensibly suggest that they should choose a quieter toy.

They also suggest that toys that have speakers under the base may be better than having them on the side or top of the toy, as this means they would be less likely to be next to the child’s ear. Parents can also encourage their child not to hold the toy near to their ears, and not to play with them for too long. The lead researcher stated that, ‘generally, toys are safe if used properly’.

If all else fails with that noisy toy, you can always hide the batteries, if only for the sake of your own sanity.


How can I avoid being deafened (or annoyed) by my child’s Christmas presents?

There are a few solutions to this one:

  • don’t buy them noisy toys
  • buy them noisy toys but no batteries
  • buy the children ear plugs
  • buy yourself ear plugs
  • send your kid’s noisy toys to the Behind the Headlines' team (especially Whac-a-Moles)

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Noisy Christmas toys risk damaging toddlers' hearing, report warns. The Daily Telegraph, December 19 2011

Children's hearing at risk from noisy Christmas toys as loud as a chainsaw. Daily Mail, December 19 2011

Further reading

Press release: UC Irvine researchers urge caution when buying noisy toys

American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery: Loudness scale


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 7 ratings

All ratings

2  ratings
0  ratings
0  ratings
0  ratings
5  ratings

Add your rating