What’s a Safe Listening Volume?

Volume knob set to a safe level that won't harm your hearing.

You ever go to the beach and see one of those “Beware of Shark” warnings? It’s not exactly a warning you dismiss. You might even reconsider swimming at all with a sign like that (if the sign is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). Inexplicably, though, it’s difficult for people to pay attention to warnings about their hearing in the same way.

Current studies have found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs regarding their hearing (these studies exclusively looked at populations in the UK, but there’s little doubt the problem is more global than that). Part of the issue is awareness. Fear of sharks is pretty instinctive. But most individuals don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?

Loud And Dangerous Sound is Everywhere Around us

Your ears are not just in peril at a rock concert or on the floor of a machine shop (although both of those venues are, without a doubt, dangerous to your hearing). There are potential risks with many every-day sounds. That’s because the duration of sound is as dangerous as the volume. Even lower-level noises, such as dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your ears when experienced for more than two hours.

Read on to find out when sound gets too loud:

  • 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this volume level. At this level, there won’t be a limit to how long you can safely be exposed.
  • 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioning unit. After around two hours this level of sound becomes dangerous.
  • 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. 50 minutes is enough to be dangerous at this level of sound.
  • 100 dB: An oncoming subway train or a mid-sized sports event are at this sound level (of course, this depends on the city). This volume can become dangerous after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up to max? On most smartphones, that’s right around this level. 5 minutes will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or very large sporting events) can result in instant damage and pain in your ears.

How Loud is 85 dB?

Generally, you should regard anything 85 dB or above as putting your ears in the danger zone. But it can be hard to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.

And that’s one reason why hearing warnings frequently go ignored, especially when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of potential solutions:

  • Suitable signage and training: This especially refers to the workplace. The significant risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). Signage could also inform you just how noisy your workspace is. Training can tell employees when hearing protection is necessary or recommended.
  • Get an app: There isn’t an app that will directly protect your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can function as sound level monitors. Damage to your ears can happen without you recognizing it because it’s hard to recognize just how loud 85 dB feels. The solution, then, is to have this app working and track the noise levels around you. This will help you establish a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (Or, the app will simply tell you when things get too noisy).

When in Doubt: Protect

Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof solution. So take the time to protect your hearing if you have any doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough period of time, can bring about hearing loss. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to damage your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not increase the volume past the mid-mark. You require noise blocking headphones if you are continually cranking up the volume to block out background sound.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to accept it. And to do this, you need to raise your own awareness and knowledge level. Protecting your ears, using ear protection, or reducing your exposure, is easy enough. But you have to recognize when to do it.

These days that should also be easier. That’s even more relevant now that you have some awareness.

Think you could have hearing loss? Make an appointment.

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.