The microphone blasted at 105 decibels, while the drum set-keyboard hybrid maxed out at 100.
The sound levels are appropriate for a concert, but the items in question don’t belong to a musician. They’re toys for young children.
“Parents need to be aware of what to look out for,” said Dr. Shannon Aiello, director of audiology at Columbia Basin Hearing Center in Kennewick.
Toys emitting sound in excess of 85 decibels, or about the level of urban traffic, can damage a child’s hearing after eight hours of continuous use, said Aiello, who’s been a doctor of audiology since 2007.
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As the decibel rate climbs, the time needed to damage hearing in young ears drops dramatically. A 100-decibel toy could result in some form of permanent hearing loss after 15 minutes, she said.
Aiello bought about a half dozen toys earlier this week to check their decibel levels. Most of the toys had no labels saying how much noise they could generate.
She arranged them on a table and measured each one’s volume using a phone app called the SPLnFFT Noise Meter, available for $3.99 through iTunes. Among the toys was a colorful plastic microphone, a remote-controlled car, a Tonka car, a musical instrument featuring a drum set and keyboard, and a LeapFrog Chat and Count phone.
Aiello first turned on the phone, a toy designed to rest snugly against a child’s ear. The sound hovered around 100 decibels and spiked as high as the sound of a lawn mower at 104.9 decibels. Normal conversation, in comparison, ranges from 60 to 70 decibels.
“One of the big things parents need to be aware of is how close (the toys) will be to the ear,” Aiello said.
The remote-controlled car and Tonka toy reached about 90 decibels, while the drum-keyboard instrument drifted between 95 and 100 decibels. The microphone reached 105.
“Parents just need to be aware that these toys are capable of producing dangerous levels of sound,” Aiello said.
A 100-decibel level sound should only be listened to for about two hours over a given day, according to the U.S Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Aiello recommended parents activate and listen to toys in the store before buying them. If the toy sounds too loud for adult ears, Aiello said, it’s probably too loud for a child.
For loud toys already at home or waiting to be unwrapped, Aiello recommended placing a piece of tape over the toy’s speaker to dampen the volume. Some toys also have “quiet switches” that dim or mute the noises emitted.
“The longer they play with those toys, they increase their risk down the road,” Aiello said, adding that it’s never too early to have a child’s hearing tested if a problem is suspected.