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

Aiden loves music. While he’s out running, he’s listening to Pandora, while working it’s Spotify, and he has a playlist for all his activities: cardio, cooking, gaming, you name it. Everything in his life has a soundtrack and it’s playing on his headphones. But the very thing that Aiden loves, the loud, immersive music, may be contributing to irreversible harm 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 hazardous listening option is usually the one most of us choose.

How can hearing loss be caused by listening to music?

Your ability to hear can be compromised over time by exposure to loud noise. We’re used to thinking of hearing loss as a problem related to aging, but more and more research indicates that it’s actually the accumulation of noise-related damage that is the issue here and not anything inherent in the aging process.

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

Can you listen to music safely?

It’s obviously hazardous to listen to music on max volume. But simply turning down the volume is a less dangerous way to listen. The general recommendations for safe volumes are:

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

Forty hours every week is about five hours and forty minutes a day. That may seem like a lot, but it can go by rather rapidly. But we’re taught to monitor time our entire lives so the majority of us are rather good at it.

Keeping track of volume is a little less intuitive. On most smart devices, smartphones, and TVs, volume is not measured in decibels. It’s measured on some arbitrary scale. Maybe it’s 1-100. But maybe it’s 1-16. You might have no idea what the max volume is on your device, or how close to the max you are.

How can you listen to tunes while monitoring your volume?

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

That’s why it’s highly recommended you utilize one of numerous cost-free noise monitoring apps. These apps, widely available for both iPhone and Android devices, will give you real-time readouts on the noises around you. In this way, you can make real-time alterations while monitoring your actual dB level. Your smartphone will, with the proper settings, let you know when the volume gets too loud.

As loud as a garbage disposal

Your garbage disposal or dishwasher is usually around 80 decibels. That’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 clear of noise above this volume. If you happen to listen to some music above 80dB, remember to minimize your exposure. Maybe limit loud listening to a song instead of an album.

Over time, loud listening will cause hearing problems. You can develop tinnitus and hearing loss. Your decision making will be more informed the more mindful you are of when you’re entering the danger zone. And safer listening will hopefully be part of those decisions.

Contact us if you still have questions about keeping your ears safe.

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