Sounds and noises make the world interesting and vibrant. And with our headphones on, we can disappear into a podcast or relaxing music, or quiet the noise of a crowded train or subway. But headphone levels can damage our hearing too. How do we keep our hearing safe and still enjoy our private world of sound?
Today, over 1.5 billion people live with disabling hearing loss. And the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2030, this number could rise to 2.5 billion. That’s why WHO published a report called Making Listening Safe, which sets out to help you avoid noise-induced hearing loss. So how can you ensure your or your child’s listening is safe? The following is some advice and information from the experts.
Headphone and earbud safety
Today, it’s normal to see people with earbuds in their ears or headphones on their heads. They let us be in our own worlds, enjoying music or podcasts, without bothering others. However, it’s important to keep the volume down to a safe level. According to the WHO, the sound intensity produced in headsets can reach the same level as a rock concert.
Safe listening tip! If your device has a colored indicator to display when the volume is approaching dangerous levels, ensure you aren’t in the red.
What is a safe headphone volume level?
So, what is safe listening? It depends on a variety of things, but we’ll start with volume levels. At the lower end, for example, we have safe sounds – like a normal conversation. These are about 60 decibels, or dB. Both adults and children can experience hearing impairment after continuous exposure to sounds of 85 dB and higher. And the output of personal audio devices can range from 75 dB to as high as 136 dB.
Safe listening tip! Download a sound level app for your smartphone so you can be aware of your sound levels.
Remember, it’s not just the sound level – it’s the duration
Once sound levels get up to 85 decibels, the amount of time you’re exposed starts to matter. The maximum safe exposure time to loud noise is eight hours below 85 decibels. However, once sound levels get up to 104 dB, common in some nightclubs and bars, and by loud earbuds and headphones, it takes just 15 minutes before you are at risk of hearing damage.
Safe listening tip! When using headphones for long periods of time, be careful to ensure the volume level is safe and take listening breaks.
Are there warning signs for hearing loss?
You may not notice your hearing is damaged until it’s too late, which is why it’s so important to protect your hearing. However, there are some warning signs that you definitely shouldn’t ignore.
Ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus. If your ears are ringing or buzzing after a loud event, it’s a clear indication they have been exposed to high volume sound. Another warning sign is “muffled” hearing, known as temporary hearing loss. This can occur after a loud event such as a concert, sports event, or even a loud movie. If your ears or headache after an event or listening through headphones, you have likely been exposed to loud sounds.
Safe listening tip! If you notice any of these warning signs, avoid loud noises until your hearing has returned to normal, and always use hearing protection the next time you put yourself in a similar situation.
How can I prevent noise-induced hearing loss?
Great news. Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. You simply need to stay aware of your noise exposure and try to minimize it whenever it approaches dangerous levels.
- Use well-fitted earphones and noise cancelling headphones. Because a good fit stops sound leaking out, it allows you to hear your music clearly without having to turn the volume up towards dangerous levels.
- Wear hearing protection. If you know you are going to be in a noisy place or doing a noisy activity, wear earplugs. Well inserted earplugs can help to reduce the level of exposure considerably, by up to 45 decibels.
- Take listening breaks. Whether you’re at a loud venue or absorbing an audiobook during a long flight, it’s a good idea to give your ears a rest from time to time. This reduces your continuous exposure and gives your ears a chance to recover.
And finally – monitor your hearing health
A hearing test lets you see how you are hearing right now and gives you a baseline for the future. Regular hearing tests allow you and your hearing care professional to track how your hearing develops over time and treat it appropriately.
To test your hearing at home try our quick and free online hearing testing!