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Newsletter - Winter 2008  (PDF version)

 Listen up: 14 of 18 toys this year top 100 dB

What do a talking car, a puzzle and a High School Musical toy all have in common? They lead the list of Sight & Hearing Association's 2008 noisiest toys.

Each year, before the busiest toy-buying season starts, the nonprofit organization purchases toys right off toy store shelves and tests their sound levels. Out of 18 toys tested this year, 14 measured over 100 decibels (dB) directly at the speaker of the toy.

Topping SHA's Noisy Toys List this year is Fisher Price's Shake 'N Go Mater, a toy car that literally screeches at 120.8 dB. At that level, a person starts to risk hearing damage in less than eight seconds, according to National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) guidelines. Interestingly, "Mater's" friends, Ramone and The King, were some of the loudest toys on last year's list.

The second loudest toy on the list is the Little People ABC Letter Sounds puzzle. This toy, meant for a 1 -year-old toddler, sounded off at 114.5 dB. At 113.5 dB is the Disney High School Musical Rockerz Boomin' Drums, a handheld musical toy made by Zizzle. Mattel's Speed Racer Mighty Mach 5 Racing Wheel made it into the top four loudest at 112.8 dB. Other notables on the list are the Press & Go Animal Parade, a toy recommended for babies six months and up, which rang out at 109.3 dB.

Resident otolaryngologists at the University of Minnesota tested the toys for the Sight & Hearing Association in a sound-proof chamber.

The results surprised Dr. Mina Le, who tested the toys.

"All of these toys were louder than I expected," she said.

There is one toy SHA found to add to its Ear-Friendly Toys list, a list of toys with sounds the organization highlights for their low levels. The VTech Bright Lights Phone measured 80.3 dB directly at the speaker, a safe level for more than eight hours.

Sounds that are 85 dB or louder can permanently damage hearing. The louder the sound, the less time it takes to cause damage. For example a sound at 85 dB may take as long as eight hours to cause permanent damage, while a sound at 100 dB can start damaging hair cells after only 15 minutes of listening. According to NIOSH, part of the Centers for Disease Control, the permissible exposure time (the amount of time you should listen) is cut in half with every three decibels over 85 dB.

Because of a child's shorter arm span, toys are often potentially more dangerous to hearing because children hold them closer to their ears. Some toys, like play cell phones, are meant to be held close-to-the-ear. This year, SHA tested another play cell phone, the VTech Dial & Discover Phone. Made for a six-month-old, this toy measured at 98.5 dB. In the Sight & Hearing Association study, the toys were repeatedly tested at distances simulating how a child might hold the toy, directly near the ear (0 inches) and at arms' length (10 inches). A soundproof acoustic chamber was used to ensure accurate measurements.

"We do this test two ways because we want to know exactly what these toys are capable of producing," explains Julee Sylvester, SHA spokesperson. "In other words, how loud can these toys get?"

Until five years ago, there were no regulations in the United States regarding the loudness of toys. An acoustics standard (ASTM F963), adopted and revised in March 2004 by ASTM International, states that a hand-held, table-top or crib toy cannot exceed 90 dB 25 cm (approx. 10 in.) from the surface of the toy. Compliance with the standard is voluntary.

Directly at the speaker of the toy, all of the toys tested this year measured louder than 90 dB. At 10 inches from the toy's surface, three of the toys measured louder than 90 dB: the Speed Racer Mighty Mach 5 Racing Wheel (93.9 dB), the Nano Blaster (92.2) and Shake 'N Go Nascar Jimmie Johnson (92.8).

Click here to view 2008 Noisy Toys List. (pdf)

To read more about noisy toys and find previous Noisy Toys Lists, visit our Web site at www.sightandhearing.org.

So what should you do if your child receives a noisy toy this Christmas?

  • Place clear packing tape over the speaker of the toy. This helps muffle the sound level.
  • If the toy has a volume button, make sure it's turned to the lowest setting. Repeatedly check the toy. (Kids like to move buttons!)
  • Report the noisy toy to the Sight & Hearing Association at ReportAToy@sightandhearing.org or call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772.

Seeing is believing: detecting amblyopia

When a child wears glasses for the first time, it can be life changing. Lauren Hoffman's story is a prime example.

After placing her new glasses on her face, Lauren looked at her mom and exclaimed, "Mommy, you don't look so fuzzy and clumpy anymore!" Lauren, 4-1/2 years old, didn't realize she hadn't been seeing her mom - or anyone else, for that matter - clearly, because she had never seen them any other way.

The Sight & Hearing Association screened Lauren last spring at Noah's Ark preschool in Circle Pines and referred her for vision. Her mom, Lori, took her to see Dr. Ann Hickson of Associated Eye Care in Forest Lake, who diagnosed Lauren with amblyopia,

Amblyopia, commonly called "lazy eye," usually occurs when one eye is not used enough for the visual system in the brain to develop properly. The brain ignores the images from the weak eye and uses only those from the stronger eye, which leads to poor vision. About five percent of children have amblyopia. If left untreated, amblyopia can lead to permanent vision loss.

A child with amblyopia may not even know that she is using only one eye. Lauren fit that profile perfectly.

"I felt really guilty," said her mom, Lori. "I am a very involved parent. Even as a stay-at-home mom, I had no clue there was anything wrong."

That's the reason vision screening is so important. There is no way to detect amblyopia except through testing. And once a child reaches a certain age, usually around 9 or 10, amblyopia may not be treatable because the brain has learned to turn off vision to the weaker eye.

Lauren easily took to wearing her glasses, "probably because she could now see," said her mom. Four weeks after first getting her glasses, she started treatment for amblyopia. To force the weak eye to get stronger, Lauren had the choice to either wear an eye patch or use eye drops. Her parents chose eye drops, which are inserted every morning for four days on and four days off. The drops blur the vision in her strong eye, forcing the weaker eye to work.

Lauren entered kindergarten this fall and, says Lori, is learning to read and is doing well. Even her personality has changed.

"Both my husband and I said we've noticed a temperament change in her. She gets less frustrated and has such a better attitude," said Lori.

For example, last year, Lauren wanted to play soccer like her big sister, but cried and didn't want to have anything to do with it once on the field. This summer and fall, Lauren decided to try it again and loved it.

"We don't know if she couldn't see the ball or what last year," said Lori, "but her whole attitude has changed. Glasses have truly been a great thing for Lauren."

Now she can concentrate on tending to her favorite things in the whole world: her stuffed animals and puppies.

"I'm very thankful you [Sight & Hearing Association] exist and that you found this for Lauren," Lori said. "I was hesitant to [have her screened], and then I found out my child was the one who really needed the screening. Amazing."

Study confirms link between seeing, learning

Uncorrected vision impairment (nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism) in preschoolers severely affects their learning ability, according to a study published in the February 2008 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology. The good news? After just six weeks of wearing glasses, the preschooler's cognitive test scores were comparable to those with good vision. These findings indicate early detection and correction of vision problems are crucial to learning.

The Sight & Hearing Association, which has screened preschoolers' vision and hearing for 49 years, has long stressed the importance of associating healthy early childhood vision with successful learning.

In the study, researchers from the University of California-San Diego followed 70 3-5-year-olds from low-income backgrounds. The children were given comprehensive eye exams and rigorous development testing - using two standardized, widely used tests that are predictive of future learning ability. Thirty-five children had refractive errors at a level significant enough to warrant glasses; the other 35 without refractive errors became the control group.

The children who had vision problems were found to be significantly behind their peers, - with test scores comparable to kids affected by malnutrition, high blood concentration and low birth weight and prematurity. After six weeks of glasses wear, however, the children scored normal on the visual motor integration test and saw a slight improvement on the intelligence test.

The ramifications of these results are far reaching. "What it would suggest is that [children with undetected vision problems] are at risk because the tests used are highly predictive and correlate well with successful school learning," said study author Barbara Brody.

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