Music and Headphones: What’s a Healthy 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. He listens to Spotify while at work, switches to Pandora while jogging, and he has a playlist for everything: cardio, cooking, video games, you name it. His headphones are just about always on, his life a completely soundtracked event. But the exact thing that Aiden enjoys, the loud, immersive music, might be contributing to irreversible harm to his hearing.

There are ways to listen to music that are safe for your ears and ways that aren’t so safe. But the more hazardous listening option is often the one most of us use.

How can listening to music result in hearing loss?

Over time, loud noises can cause deterioration of your hearing abilities. Typically, we think of aging as the principal cause of hearing loss, but more and more research suggests that it’s really the accumulation of noise-induced damage that is the issue here and not anything inherent in the aging process.

It also turns out that younger ears are especially susceptible to noise-related damage (they’re still growing, after all). And yet, younger adults are more likely to be dismissive of the long-term hazards of high volume. So there’s an epidemic of younger individuals with hearing loss thanks, in part, to high volume headphone use.

Is there a safe way to listen to music?

Unregulated max volume is clearly the “dangerous” 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 guidelines for safe volumes are:

  • For adults: Keep the volume at no more than 80dB and for no more than 40 hours per week..
  • For teens and young children: You can still listen for 40 hours, but keep the volume level below 75dB.

About five hours and forty minutes per day will give you about forty hours every week. Though that might seem like a while, it can feel like it passes rather quickly. Even still, most people have a fairly reliable idea of keeping track of time, it’s something we’re trained to do efficiently from a very young age.

Keeping track of volume is a little less intuitive. On most smart devices, computers, and TVs, volume isn’t calculated in decibels. It’s measured on some arbitrary scale. Perhaps it’s 1-100. But perhaps it’s 1-16. You might 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 monitoring your volume?

It’s not very easy to tell how loud 80 decibels is, but thankfully there are some non-intrusive ways to tell how loud the volume is. Distinguishing 75 from, let’s say, 80 decibels is even more puzzling.

So using one of the many noise free monitoring apps is highly advisable. Real-time volumes of the noise around you will be obtainable from both iPhone and Android apps. That way you can track the dB level of your music in real-time and make adjustments. Or, when listening to music, you can also adjust your configurations in your smartphone which will automatically tell you that your volume is too loud.

The volume of a garbage disposal

Your garbage disposal or dishwasher is typically around 80 decibels. That’s not too loud. Your ears will start to take damage at volumes higher than this threshold so it’s a significant observation.

So you’ll want to be more mindful of those times when you’re going beyond that volume threshold. And limit your exposure if you do listen to music above 80dB. Maybe listen to your favorite song at full volume instead of the entire album.

Listening to music at a higher volume can and will cause you to develop hearing problems over the long run. You can develop tinnitus and hearing loss. Your decision making will be more informed the more mindful you are of when you’re going into the danger zone. And safer listening will ideally be part of those decisions.

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

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.