What’s a Safe Listening Volume?

yougn woman listening to music with headphones outdoors

While most people name old age, in reality, hearing loss is a degenerative condition. In other words, it means that it is most frequently linked to damage that occurs to your inner ear. The damage can occur through the aging process, but other events can also trigger it. Some medical conditions can contribute to hearing loss, such as diabetes, which affects the inner ear’s blood vessels and nerves. Trauma to the head or the ear can also affect your ability to filter and recognize sounds. Finally, prolonged exposure to harmful noises can lead to irreparable damage inside the ear. 

Consequently, it appears crucial to understand how loud you can safely listen to sounds. An audiologist would warn you about listening to sounds above 85dBs without adequate protection. Yet, what kind of noise produces 85dBs or more? 

The typical conversation ranges around 60dBs. Office noises can hit 70dBs, and a vacuum cleaner will reach approximately 75dBs. Heavy traffic and a power lawn mower can be as loud as 85dBs. If you ride a motorcycle, you are potentially subjected to sounds between 96-100dBs. Riding the subway to commute to work exposes you to over 90dBs. The bottom line: Loud noises are already an integral part of your day-to-day life. So how can you protect yourself to prevent hearing loss

How loud are my headphones? How loud is my TV?

It might sound surprising, but the most harmful thing an individual can do for their hearing is not to ride the subway or use a loud lawn mower. It’s everyday entertainment technology. Indeed, TV and headphones have a vast range of volume settings; so, you might be listening to your favorite show or music at a potentially harmful volume. 

How can you tell whether your entertainment tech is too loud? Typically, if the TV is loud and reaches over 90dBs, your neighbors and household are likely to complain about the noise. 

When it comes to headphones, you will need to check the volume carefully. Experts recommend keeping sound levels between 60-85dBs to prevent ear damage. If your preferred listening volume is over two-thirds of the volume control, it is likely to cause damage. You can test it by removing your headphones and playing music while holding them in front of you. If you can still hear clearly every sound, the volume is too loud. 

Identify the loud noises around you

Depending on your lifestyle, location and career, you might be surrounded by loud noises. Therefore, it’s important to understand where those potentially hazardous sounds come from and how loud they truly are. 

As mentioned above, the typical conversation is approximately 60dBs. However, if your office workers have a habit of speaking loudly, which can be a frequent occurrence in large open plan settings, you could be sitting next to someone holding a conversation with a coworker at 85dBs or over. 

Similarly, some office equipment can be loud and cause damage to the ear, such as sitting near the air conditioner for an extended period of time. The typical air-con unit emits sounds at 85dBs. You could sustain hearing loss if you are exposed to sounds at 85dBs or over for at least two hours. 

It can be tough to figure out how loud 85dBs can be. Therefore, the easiest way to keep your hearing safe is to monitor the sound environment using an app or specialist equipment. Measuring the sounds you face every day can help you identify risks. 

How to talk about loud sounds in the workplace

The Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) sets standards and programs to prevent the risk of hearing loss among the American workforce. According to their standards, the employer is responsible for implementing a hearing conservation program for staff exposed to noise at or over 85dBs averaged over eight working hours. In other words, if an employee’s exposure to loud sounds averages 85dBs over eight hours, the employer should introduce protection equipment and best practice knowledge. 

In other words, an employee who is exposed to sounds at 100dBs for one hour and works otherwise in a quiet environment still meets the eight-hour average threshold. The OSHA states a chart of noise exposure, indicating that the following are not permissible:

  • Over three hours at 95dBs
  • Over two hours at 100dBs
  • Over 15 mins at 110dBs

Workers have the right to request an OSHA inspection if they fear the employer doesn’t comply with the hearing safety requirements. 

Protect yourself if in doubt

If you are worried about hearing loss, you can safeguard your ears with volume discipline and ear protection. An audiologist can help you choose the most appropriate hearing protection for your situation. 

Are you worried about exposure to loud noises? Get in touch with an expert audiologist at Sound Advice, (856) 454-8861, to book an appointment.