Aiden enjoys music. He listens to Spotify while working, switches to Pandora while jogging, and he has a playlist for everything: gaming, cooking, gym time, and everything else. His headphones are just about always on, his life a totally soundtracked event. But the very thing that Aiden enjoys, the loud, immersive music, could be causing lasting damage to his hearing.
As far as your ears are concerned, there are healthy ways to listen to music and dangerous ways to listen to music. Unfortunately, the majority 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 damaged over time by exposure to loud noise. Typically, we think of aging as the main cause of hearing loss, but more recent research is showing that hearing loss isn’t an inherent part of aging but is instead, the outcome of accumulated noise damage.
Younger ears that are still developing are, as it turns out, more vulnerable to noise-related damage. And yet, the long-term damage from high volume is more likely to be ignored by young adults. 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?
Unlimited max volume is obviously the “dangerous” way to enjoy music. But there is a safer way to enjoy your tunes, and it typically involves turning down the volume. The general recommendations for safe volumes are:
- For adults: Keep the volume at less than 80dB and for no more than 40 hours a week..
- For teens and young children: 40 hours is still okay but lower the volume to 75dB.
Forty hours per week is about five hours and forty minutes a day. Though that may seem like a long time, it can feel like it passes rather quickly. But we’re conditioned to monitor time our whole lives so the majority of us are rather good at it.
Monitoring volume is a little less intuitive. Volume isn’t measured in decibels on the majority of smart devices like TVs, computers, and smartphones. It’s calculated on some arbitrary scale. Perhaps it’s 1-100. But perhaps it’s 1-16. You may not have a clue how close to max volume you are or even what max volume on your device is.
How can you listen to tunes while keeping track of your volume?
It’s not really easy to tell how loud 80 decibels is, but fortunately there are some non-intrusive ways to know how loud the volume is. It’s even harder to understand the difference between 80 and 75dB.
So using one of the many noise free monitoring apps is highly advisable. Real-time readouts of the noise around you will be obtainable from both iPhone and Android apps. In this way, you can make real-time adjustments while monitoring your real dB level. Your smartphone will, with the correct settings, let you know when the volume gets too loud.
The volume of a garbage disposal
Generally, 80 dB is about as noisy as your garbage disposal or your dishwasher. So, it’s loud, but it’s not too loud. Your ears will start to take damage at volumes higher than this threshold so it’s a relevant observation.
So you’ll want to be extra aware of those times at which you’re moving beyond that volume threshold. And limit your exposure if you do listen to music over 80dB. Perhaps listen to your favorite song at max volume instead of the entire album.
Over time, loud listening will cause hearing problems. Hearing loss and tinnitus can be the outcome. Your decision making will be more informed the more aware you are of when you’re entering the danger zone. And safer listening will ideally be part of those decisions.
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