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What’s a Safe Volume for My Headphones?


A World Health Organization (WHO) press release says 1.1 billion people are at risk of hearing loss.

That’s especially worrisome for Americans as the WHO says that 14.4% of world population is at risk from events embedded in our culture.

Those risk factors include ‘personal audio devices, including in-car entertainment, and smartphones and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events’.

How Headphones Are Causing This Hearing Loss

The WHO studied data from teens and young adults, aged 12 to 35 years in middle and high income countries. They uncovered the following statistics:

  1. Some 40% of those young people are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from personal audio devices
  2. Nearly 50% are exposed to damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues.
  3. A dangerous level of sound is greater than 85 decibels for eight hours or 100 for 15 minutes.

We explore the safest volume for headphones, the best headphones for hearing loss, and other safety tips for our ears towards the second part this article.

But First, How Do Headphones Cause Hearing Loss

We were intrigued by Regain Hearing’s comment ‘If you think about the human ear, it makes sense that it is not suited for loud noises’. After all, safe hunter-gathering in our ancestor days was about hearing soft footsteps of people and wild animals creeping up us.

Most folks who have slept in the wild can confirm natural open spaces are quiet places, especially after dark. And how they slept with ‘one ear wide open’ and attuned to sounds as quiet at caterpillars rustling among dry leaves.

It’s no wonder we instinctively cover our ears with our hands in presence of loud sounds, as if we naturally know they can damage our hearing. That is, until we block them with headphones or earbuds. And then turn up the music as if there as if there were no safe volume for headphones.

However, the truth is sound waves travel in our inner ear through a chamber filled with tiny, delicate hairs. These hairs are attuned to detecting normal sounds blowing like a breeze between them. But when we turn the headphone volume high, it’s like a gale blasting through. The almost inevitable result is we damage those hairs.

Sure they repair, but unfortunately, they can’t keep on healing themselves forever. When they are gone, they are gone for the rest of our lives because there is nothing audio-science can do to replace them. Although it did produce the technology for Blue Angels hearing aids that could help overcome your hearing loss.

How Elders Prevent Further Hearing Loss from Headphones

We’re done with the kids and the young adults for now. Let’s focus our lens on our favorite people, America’s seniors who are also at risk from headphones. That’s right, Pomp and Circumstance played at full volume, and an Organ Concerto can also harm our hearing so the same logic applies to us too.

Turn Down to a Safe Volume for Headphones

Some headphones are capable of blasting out as much as 135 decibels. Here are some examples according to Audiology Web:

  1. 140 is a nearby firework, or gunshot
  2. 120 is a large jet plane during take off
  3. 100 is an MP3 player at full volume
  4. 80 is traffic, or a vacuum cleaner
  5. 60 is the sound of a normal conversation
  6. 40 is a quiet library with people behaving
  7. 20 is dry leaves rustling in the breeze

Reduce your headphone volume to 60%, say 80 decibels and you should be able to avoid causing further hearing loss.

Stick to Headphones, Ditch the Earbuds

Now we’re not saying all earbuds are bad, in fact noise-cancelling ones can make a world of difference. The only thing is their speakers can be a half-inch closer to our eardrums than headphones, and that can make a difference at high volumes.

Buy Yourself a Pair of Noise-Cancelling Headphones

It’s a natural thing to turn the volume up higher in noisy surroundings, so you ‘cancel out’ the background noise. Some companies make noise-cancelling headphones that achieve something similar.

Less-expensive ones muffle outside sounds by design. While active noise-cancelling ones constantly monitor external noise, and generate soundwaves that cancel it out. 

Take a Break From Those Loud Sounds

Those hairs in your inner ears need to take a break, just like an athlete does. Give your ears that break by not listening to music on headphones longer than an hour at a time, with similar-spaced breaks between.

And finally, if your phone or other device has a custom safe-volume setting, go to settings … music … volume (or similar) and follow your logic. This advice comes with compliments of Blue Angels Hearing, offering to help you hear better in 2021.

More Reading

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Is Hearing Loss Genetic or Part of Life?

World Health Organization Press Release

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Sources

https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/ear-care/en/

https://www.signia-hearing.com/blog/can-headphones-cause-hearing-loss/

https://www.cnet.com/health/do-headphones-cause-hearing-loss/

https://www.regainhearing.co.uk/blog/can-headphones-cause-hearing-loss/

https://audiology-web.s3.amazonaws.com/migrated/NoiseChart_Poster-%208.5x11.pdf_5399b289427535.32730330.pdf