If you are the parent of a newborn, then you are probably already conscious of what noises wake your baby and – fingers crossed – puts them to sleep. But it can be difficult to judge what constitutes a loud noise, especially in an urban environment where we hear things like traffic, car horns, airplanes and construction all the time. 

What are the health effects of noise exposure to children? 

Short-term exposure to loud noises can result in temporary hearing loss and ringing in the ears. Exposure to loud sounds throughout childhood can cause permanent hearing loss as well as harm a child’s physical and psychological health – including learning, behaviour, speech and language. Noise exposure over long periods can disrupt sleep patterns, elevate heart rate and blood pressure. 

Noisy toys – how loud is loud? 

When we try to describe noise levels for healthy listening, we use A-weighted decibels (dBA) because it not only measures the sound, but also how the ear responds. 
 
Comfortable noise levels are 0-60 dBA which would be things like conversational speech, nature sounds, or noise in your bedroom or living room. 

Loud noise levels are 60-90 dBA which are things like street traffic, heavy trucks or a live concert. 

Painful noise levels are anything above 90 dBA and would include things like alarms, jackhammers or a jet engine. 

In a survey of 120 common children’s toys* 78% were in the loud zone producing a noise level above 85 dBA and 22.5% produced noise level in the painful zone above 100dBA. 
 

Rubber duck or live concert – which is louder? 

The survey found that in fact a rubber duck comes in at 117dBA – higher than a loud concert. In addition to looking at noise levels, we also need to consider length of exposure. With the example of the rubber duck and the live concert, the length of exposure to high level sound at a concert is more significant than squeezing a rubber duck. But it gives some perspective as to where noise exposure starts. 

How to minimise noise exposure for babies 

The main lesson here is to not think of babies as small adults. Because they are still developing they are much more susceptible to the environment than we are so we can’t apply the same adult standards. 

  • Look for signs. When you see a baby startle it might be because of a noise that for them is in the loud-painful zone. 
  • Do not attend live music or go near construction unless your baby is wearing ear protection. 
  • Recognise that noise from older siblings or shouting can damage your baby’s hearing over the long term. Where possible minimise this exposure. 
  • Think about turning down the car radio when you have a baby on board. The combined effect of the radio, traffic and talking adds up to high noise exposure for your baby. 

Need some advice? 

Kidsafe Qld’s mission is to provide evidence-based practical advice to empower parents and caregivers to make informed choices to prevent childhood injuries. We are at your service and welcome any questions you might have around injury prevention and keeping kids safe at home, on the road and at play. 
 
Call Kidsafe Qld: 3854 1829