Music and Headphones: What's a Safe Volume?


Woman with long dark hair relaxing in a chair in the park listening to headphones

Music is an essential part of Aiden’s life. While he’s out running, he listens to Pandora, while working it’s Spotify, and he has a playlist for everything he does: cardio, cooking, video games, you name it. His headphones are pretty much always on, his life a completely soundtracked event. But the exact thing that Aiden loves, the loud, immersive music, could be contributing to permanent damage to his hearing.

There are ways to listen to music that are safe for your ears and ways that are not so safe. But the more dangerous listening option is usually the one most of us choose.

How can listening to music result in hearing loss?

Your ability to hear can be compromised over time by exposure to loud noise. We’re used to thinking of hearing loss as an issue associated with aging, but more and more research reveals that it’s really the accumulation of noise-induced damage that is the issue here and not anything intrinsic to the aging process.

Younger ears which are still developing are, as it turns out, more vulnerable to noise-related damage. And yet, younger adults are more likely to be dismissive of the long-term risks of high volume. So there’s an epidemic of younger people with hearing loss thanks, in part, to loud headphone use.

Is there a safe way to enjoy music?

Unrestricted max volume is obviously the “dangerous” way to listen to music. But simply turning down the volume is a less dangerous way to listen. The general guidelines for safe volumes are:

  • For adults: No more than 40 hours of weekly listening on a device and keep the volume below 80dB.
  • For teens and young children: 40 hours is still okay but reduce the volume to 75dB.

About five hours and forty minutes per day will give you about forty hours a week. That seems like a lot, but it can go by fairly rapidly. But we’re trained to keep track of time our whole lives so most of us are rather good at it.

Monitoring volume is a little less intuitive. Volume isn’t gauged in decibels on most smart devices such as TVs, computers, and smartphones. Each device has its own arbitrary scale. Maybe it’s 1-100. But maybe it’s 1-16. You may not have any clue what the max volume is on your device, or how close to the max you are.

How can you keep tabs on the volume of your tunes?

It’s not very easy to know how loud 80 decibels is, but luckily there are a few non-intrusive ways to tell how loud the volume is. It’s even harder to understand the difference between 80 and 75dB.

That’s why it’s greatly suggested you utilize one of numerous free noise monitoring apps. These apps, widely available for both iPhone and Android devices, will provide you with8 real-time readouts on the noises around you. In this way, you can make real-time alterations while monitoring your real dB level. Or, when listening to music, you can also modify your configurations in your smartphone which will efficiently let you know that your volume is too high.

The volume of a garbage disposal

Typically, 80 dB is about as loud as your garbage disposal or your dishwasher. So, it’s loud, but it’s not too loud. It’s an important observation because 80dB is about as loud as your ears can handle without damage.

So pay close attention and try to stay away from noise above this volume. And minimize your exposure if you do listen to music above 80dB. Perhaps listen to your favorite song at max volume instead of the entire album.

Listening to music at a loud volume can and will cause you to develop hearing problems over the long run. Hearing loss and tinnitus can be the result. The more you can be aware of when your ears are going into the danger zone, the more educated your decision-making can be. And safer listening will hopefully be part of those decisions.

Still have questions about safe listening? Call us to explore more options.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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