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 important part of Aiden’s life. While he’s out jogging, he’s listening to Pandora, while working it’s Spotify, and he has a playlist for all his activities: cardio, cooking, video games, you name it. His headphones are pretty much always on, his life a completely soundtracked event. But the very thing that Aiden enjoys, the loud, immersive music, might be causing irreversible harm to his hearing.

For your ears, there are healthy ways to listen to music and dangerous ways to listen to music. Unfortunately, most of us opt for the more dangerous listening choice.

How can hearing loss be caused by listening to music?

Your ability to hear can be compromised over time by exposure to loud noise. Normally, we think of aging as the principal cause of hearing loss, but more and more research suggests that it’s actually the accumulation of noise-related damage that is the issue here and not anything inherent in the process of aging.

It also turns out that younger ears are especially susceptible to noise-induced damage (they’re still growing, after all). 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?

Unrestricted max volume is clearly the “hazardous” way to listen to music. But there is a safer way to listen to your tunes, and it normally involves turning down the volume. The general recommendations 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 fine but decrease the volume to 75dB.

Forty hours per week translates into roughly five hours and forty minutes per day. That may seem like a lot, but it can go by rather quickly. But we’re conditioned to monitor time our whole lives so the majority of us are pretty good at it.

Monitoring volume is a little less user-friendly. On most smart devices, computers, and televisions, volume isn’t calculated in decibels. It’s measured on some arbitrary scale. Maybe it’s 1-100. Or it might be 1-10. You may have no clue what the max volume is on your device, or how close to the max you are.

How can you listen to tunes while keeping track of your volume?

There are a few non-intrusive, easy ways to figure out just how loud the volume on your music really is, because it’s not all that easy for us to conceptualize exactly what 80dB sounds like. It’s even harder to understand the difference between 80 and 75dB.

That’s why it’s highly recommended you utilize one of numerous free noise monitoring apps. These apps, generally available for both iPhone and Android devices, will provide you with8 real-time readouts on the noises around you. That way you can track the dB level of your music in real-time and make adjustments. Your smartphone will, with the correct settings, let you know when the volume gets too loud.

As loud as 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. Your ears will begin to take damage at volumes above this threshold so it’s a relevant observation.

So pay close attention and try to avoid noise above this volume. If you happen to listen to some music beyond 80dB, remember to limit your exposure. Maybe limit loud listening to a song instead of an album.

Over time, loud listening will cause hearing issues. Hearing loss and tinnitus can be the consequence. The more you can be cognizant of when your ears are going into the danger zone, the more educated your decision-making will be. And hopefully, those decisions lean towards safer listening.

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

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.