Music and Headphones: What’s a Healthy Volume?

Woman with long dark hair relaxing in a chair in the park listening to headphones

Aiden enjoys music. He listens to Spotify while working, switches to Pandora when jogging, and he has a playlist for everything: cardio, cooking, video games, you name it. His headphones are pretty much always on, his life a completely soundtracked event. But the exact thing that Aiden enjoys, the loud, immersive music, could be causing permanent harm to his hearing.

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

How can hearing loss be caused by listening to music?

Your ability to hear can be damaged over time by exposure to loud noise. We’re used to thinking of hearing loss as a problem related to aging, but more and more research suggests that it’s actually the accumulation of noise-induced damage that is the problem here and not anything inherent in the aging process.

Younger ears which are still developing are, as it turns out, more vulnerable to noise-induced damage. And yet, the long-term harm 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 loud headphone use.

Can you enjoy music safely?

Unregulated max volume is obviously the “dangerous” way to enjoy music. But there is a safer way to listen to your tunes, and it typically involves turning the volume down. The general recommendations for safe volumes are:

  • For adults: 40 hours or less of weekly listening on a device and keep the volume below 80dB.
  • For teens and young children: 40 hours is still fine but reduce the volume to 75dB.

Forty hours per week translates into about five hours and forty minutes a day. Though that could seem like a long time, it can seem to pass quite quickly. Even still, most individuals have a pretty reliable concept of keeping track of time, it’s something we’re trained to do effectively from a really young age.

Monitoring volume is a little less intuitive. Volume isn’t gauged in decibels on most smart devices such as TVs, computers, and smartphones. It’s measured on some arbitrary scale. It could be 1-100. Or it may be 1-10. You may not have any idea how close to max volume you are or even what max volume on your device is.

How can you listen to music while monitoring your volume?

There are a few non-intrusive, simple ways to determine just how loud the volume on your music actually is, because it’s not all that easy for us to contemplate what 80dB sounds like. It’s even more difficult to understand the difference between 80 and 75dB.

So using one of the many noise free monitoring apps is greatly suggested. These apps, widely available for both iPhone and Android devices, will provide you with8 real-time readouts on the noises surrounding you. In this way, you can make real-time alterations while monitoring your actual dB level. Or, when listening to music, you can also modify your settings in your smartphone which will efficiently tell you that your volume is too high.

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 that loud. It’s an important observation because 80dB is about as much noise as your ears can take without damage.

So you’ll want to be extra mindful of those times when you’re going beyond that volume threshold. If you happen to listen to some music beyond 80dB, don’t forget to minimize your exposure. Maybe minimize loud listening to a song rather than an album.

Over time, loud listening will cause hearing problems. You can develop hearing loss and tinnitus. The more you can be aware of when your ears are entering the danger zone, the more informed your decision-making will be. And ideally, those decisions lean towards safer listening.

Give us a call 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.