• By Dana Sparks

Hearing Through the Holidays: Noisy Gifts

December 16, 2013

Hearing loss is often associated with the aging population but it impacts the lives of younger generations too. The Hearing Health Foundation reports that nearly 50 million Americans suffer from hearing loss in at least one ear, including 20 percent of teenagers. red and white drum set with three drumsYoung children also inflict hearing damage by playing with noisy toys. This holiday season remember to purchase ear-healthy gifts for your loved ones! Katie Kendhammer, Au.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System audiologist and offers these tips.

Loud toys

Many toys that young children play with can produce levels equal to 90 dB, which is as loud or louder than a lawn mower. These levels would require adults to utilize hearing protection. Additionally, young children often play with these toys at ear level. Putting them up near their face, ears and mouth exposes their ears to levels as loud or louder than an airplane taking off – 120 dB.


As a parent, it’s a good idea to test toys out in the store before buying them. Some things to keep in mind:

  • If a toy sounds too loud to you, they are too loud for your child.
  • Think like a child: hold the toy up by your ear and get down to the ground to mimic a child’s height.
  • Testing the volume level at arm’s length is not effective. Your child will play with the toy much closer to their face.
  • If you have a noisy toy you or your child doesn’t want to return, try placing clear tape over the speaker. Some tests have shown this limits sound and may be safer for kids’ ears.
  • Research the “Noisy Toys List” on sightandhearing.org.

It’s important to limit your child’s play with noisy toys. Avoid loud action figures and dolls, and shut the noise off of audible playthings every now and then. Your child’s ears are delicate.

Music and headphones

For children and teens that are glued to their music player or smart device, parents should listen when children are wearing headphones and have music on. If the parent can hear the music, it’s too loud.

Output limiting headphones is a nice gift option. In most cases, they automatically limit the output level to about 85 dB, which is a safe volume for up to eight hours. These headphones are available at many Mayo Clinic Health System sites.

You can also invest in custom earbud headphones or noise-cancelling headphones that help block out background noise, allowing you to decrease the volume.


Does your son or daughter – or maybe even your spouse – want an instrument as a present? Instruments are fun gift ideas, but you need to consider tips to make sure hearing isn’t sacrificed for making music.

For all musicians, especially drummers, smart hearing health care is essential. Older musicians may benefit from musician earplugs that limit sound without compromising musical integrity.

Drummers should try practicing with drum pads as much as possible. This will eliminate loud noises while still offering a surface on which to rehearse stick strokes.

Another approach for musicians is to limit practice to intervals. Try practicing, with ear protection, for 30 to 60 minutes, taking a break for the same amount of time to give your ears a rest and then going back to practice.

As you are out shopping for gifts during the holidays, or any other time of year, don’t forget about hearing health care. Your ears provide an important sense, and they are sensitive. Make sure your presents support healthy ears.

For more information, please go to mayoclinichealthsystem.org.