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 essential part of Aiden’s life. He listens to Spotify while at work, switches to Pandora when jogging, and he has a playlist for everything: gaming, cooking, gym time, and everything else. 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 healthy for your ears and ways that are not so safe. However, most of us opt for the more dangerous listening choice.

How does listening to music cause hearing loss?

Over time, loud noises can cause degeneration of your hearing abilities. We’re accustomed to thinking of hearing loss as an issue caused by aging, but more and more research suggests that it’s really the accumulation of noise-related damage that is the issue here and not anything intrinsic to the process of aging.

It also turns out that younger ears are especially susceptible to noise-induced damage (they’re still developing, after all). And yet, the long-term harm from high volume is more likely to be ignored by young adults. So because of widespread high volume headphone usage, there has become an epidemic of hearing loss in young individuals.

Is there a safe way to listen to music?

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. Here are a couple of general recommendations:

  • 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 okay but reduce the volume to 75dB.

Forty hours every week translates into roughly five hours and forty minutes a day. Though that might seem like a while, it can seem to pass rather quickly. Even still, most people have a pretty sound idea of keeping track of time, it’s something we’re taught to do successfully from a really young age.

The more challenging part is keeping track of your volume. Volume isn’t measured in decibels on most 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 might have no idea what the max volume is on your device, or how close to the max you are.

How can you monitor the volume of your music?

There are some non-intrusive, simple ways to determine 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 more difficult to understand the difference between 80 and 75dB.

So using one of the numerous noise free monitoring apps is highly recommended. 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 keep track of the dB level of your music in real-time and make alterations. Or, while listening to music, you can also modify your configurations in your smartphone which will automatically let you know that your volume is too loud.

As loud as a garbage disposal

Generally speaking, 80 dB is about as noisy as your garbage disposal or your dishwasher. So, it’s loud, but it’s not that loud. Your ears will begin to take damage at volumes above this threshold so it’s an important observation.

So pay close attention and try to stay away from noise above this volume. And limit your exposure if you do listen to music over 80dB. Maybe minimize loud listening to a song instead of an album.

Listening to music at a higher volume can and will cause you to have hearing issues over the long run. Hearing loss and tinnitus can be the result. Your decision making will be more educated the more mindful you are of when you’re going into the danger zone. And safer listening will hopefully be part of those decisions.

Contact us if you still have questions about the safety of your ears.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Schedule an appointment to see if hearing aids could benefit you.