What’s a Safe Listening Volume?

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

Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s easy to realize that you should never dismiss a caution like that. You might even rethink swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s especially true). But people usually don’t heed cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Current research has found that millions of people ignore warning signs regarding their hearing (these studies exclusively considered populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s no doubt the problem is more global than that). Knowledge is a big part of the issue. It’s rather instinctive to be afraid of sharks. But the majority of people don’t have an overt fear of loud sounds. And how do you know how loud is too loud?

Loud And Hazardous Sound is All Around us

Your ears are not just in danger at a rock concert or construction site (not to downplay the hearing hazards of these scenarios). Many every-day sounds are potentially harmful. That’s because exposure time is as hazardous as the volume. Even low-level noises, such as dense city traffic, can be harmful to your hearing when experienced for more than two hours.

Generally speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this volume level. At this volume, there won’t be a limit to how long you can safely be exposed.
  • 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioning unit. After about two hours this level of sound becomes dangerous.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good illustration of this sound level. This level of exposure gets dangerous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 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 get hazardous after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up to max? On most smartphones, that’s about this level. 5 minutes will be enough to be unsafe at this volume.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or very large sports events) can result in immediate damage and pain in your ears.

What Does 85 Decibels Sound Like?

Generally, you’re hearing is at risk when you’re experiencing any sound 85 dB or above. The problem is that it’s not always obvious just how loud 85 dB is. It’s not tangible in the way that a shark is tangible.

And hearing cautions frequently get neglected because of this when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is particularly true. There are a couple of possible solutions to this:

  • Get an app: Your ears can’t be immediately protected with an app. But there are several free apps that can work as sound level monitors. Damage to your ears can occur without you recognizing it because it’s tough to recognize just how loud 85 dB feels. Using this app to monitor noise levels, then, is the solution. This will help you establish a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (and you will also recognize right away when things are getting too noisy).
  • Adequate training and signage: This is true of workspaces, in particular. The significant dangers of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the benefits of hearing protection). Additionally, just how noisy your workspace is, can be clarified by signage. Helping employees know when hearing protection is recommended or necessary with appropriate training can be really useful.

When in Doubt: Protect

Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof answer. So when in doubt, take the time to protect your ears. Noise damage, over a long enough period of time, can lead to hearing loss. And it’s easier than it ever has been to harm your ears (all you have to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too loud).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the mid-mark. If you keep turning it up to hear your music over background noise you need different headphones that have noise cancellation.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to acknowledge it. And to do this, you need to increase your own recognition and knowledge level. Protecting your ears, wearing ear protection, or limiting your exposure, is pretty simple. But you have to recognize when to do it.

That should be easier these days, too. Especially now that you know what to look for.

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.