Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs



Danica Billingsly
Danica Billingsly



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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

November 24, 2009

NIU audiologist ready to teach parents
about loud toys that can damage hearing

Danica Billingsly will give presentation, demonstrations Dec. 2

DeKalb, Ill. — Even in a down economy, the day after Thanksgiving is a crazy one for retailers as they roll out their Christmas specials and shoppers seem to forget about bleak sales forecasts.

But for the parents and grandparents who will cram the aisles of toys and electronics that day and for the rest of the holiday season, their thoughts should focus on more than avoiding crowds and comparing prices to the sizes of their wallets.

And, unlike the Christmas presents they’re scooping up, this advice is priceless: Some toys are loud – and can easily and insidiously damage the hearing of children.

Danica Billingsly, a clinical audiology faculty member in the Northern Illinois University School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders, will speak at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2, about the potential for toy-induced hearing loss.

Her presentation, which is free and open to the public, will take place at the Family Service Agency, 14 Health Services Drive in DeKalb.

Billingsly will explain how to know if a toy is too loud, describe the ways ears can be hurt and offer tips on how to prevent overexposure from toys and mp3 players. She also will run down the annual list of noisy toys compiled by the Sight and Hearing Association.

“Even the toys that are low on that list are pretty bad. The problem we have is that kids use toys in ways adults don’t think about,” Billingsly said. “When adults take noise measurements of toys, they measure for exposure at a distance of 10 inches. But with children, sometimes they stick their faces right up to things. The exposure is much greater.”

That problem is compounded by normal methods of calculating exposure, she added.

“When we have measurements that are made with traditional equipment, using traditional calculations, a lot of those are normed on the adult ear,” she said. “A child’s ear is much, much smaller inside.”

Billingsly has several tips for parents and grandparents to become smart shoppers and good stewards of their loved ones’ hearing.

  • Carry the Sight and Hearing Association’s list of noisy toys on shopping trips for quick reference.
  • If a toy is available to test in store, turn it on and listen to the level of noise. “Play with it,” Billingsly said. “If it seems loud to an adult, it’s going to seem very loud to a child.”
  • When a toy offers levels of volume, glue that switch into the lower position.
  • Cover the speaker with packing tape to dampen the noise output.

Teenagers who live inside the musical world of mp3 players create a different dilemma for parents, Billingsly said.

“The biggest problem we have with teenagers is the length of exposure time. They’ll listen to music eight to 10 hours a day – and happily. Talk to any parent of a teenager, and you’ll find their children are frequently wearing their headphones, whenever they can get away with it,” she said.

And today’s earbuds aren’t yesterday’s headphones, she added.

Most of today’s parents grew up wearing loose-fitting headphones that allowed the sound to bleed; if their parents could hear the music, they were usually quick to tap on shoulders and insist that their teens turn the volume down.

“We can’t use that rule of thumb anymore,” Billingsly said. “Earbuds go straight down into the ear canal. Little escapes.”

Fortunately, negative press and parental pressure are convincing some manufacturers to put voluntary limits on their equipment. With an iPod, for example, a parent can set a maximum volume and lock it with a password.

Parents who are indifferent about the hearing damage caused by toys and electronic music players should know that noise exposure in children is an “insidious condition” that manifests itself years later.

“Cumulative noise exposure is what causes the big problems. It’s what we see in the 23-year-old or the 35-year-old or the 47-year-old who are having hearing loss years before they should,” she said. “This is about making children healthier adults who are less prone to hearing loss.”

The School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders is housed in NIU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

For more information about the Dec. 2 event, call (815) 758-8616.

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