As parents, we all know how annoying our kids' noisy toys can be.

It turns out though that if our kids play with certain noisy toys all the time, it can actually be damaging to them as well -- to their hearing.

Researchers at UW-Whitewater recently completed a study of how popular children's toys affect small kids' hearing. The team selected noise-making electronic toys from the top toys lists and measured the decibel levels reached. For reference, a comfortable conversation is typically about 70 decibels, while the noise of a lawnmower reaches 90 decibels. The researchers found that the maximum levels reached by the toys were between 101 and 122 decibels, with infant and toddler toys being the loudest.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that daily exposure to noises registering 101 decibels be limited to 1.5 hours per day and that the limit should be 10 minutes for 122 decibels.

Since the ranges of decibels reached varied widely among the toys and the averages were lower than the OSHA recommendations, the study concluded that "although it is likely that a child will not have permanent hearing loss with the measured levels, they are still at risk for temporary changes in hearing."

In order to avoid these temporary changes, the researchers included some recommendations for play for parents:

1. Play with noise generating toys for shorter periods of time.

2. If your child really loves a particular toy, he can cycle back and forth between playing with the toy with the sound features turned on and then with them turned off for awhile.

3. Place noise generating toys farther away from your child's ears.

4. Adjust the volume of the toy, or, if there is no volume control, you can place tape over the speaker.

The study was conducted by Amanda Hickey, Alyssa Antoine and Elizabeth Franzke as part of a UW-Whitewater undergraduate research project. The study was supervised by Lynn Gilbertson, Ph.D. in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

If you have any questions about the study, contact Dr. Gilbertson at gilbertl@uww.edu.

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