What’s a Safe Listening Level?

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

You ever go to the beach and noticed one of those “Beware of Shark” warning signs? It’s not exactly a sign you dismiss. You may even reconsider swimming at all with a sign like that (if the sign 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.

Recent research has found that millions of people disregard warning signs regarding their hearing (this research exclusively considered populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s no doubt the concern is more global than that). Awareness is a huge part of the problem. Being afraid of sharks is fairly intuitive. But fear of loud noise? And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?

Loud And Dangerous Sound is All Around us

It isn’t just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your ears (not to minimize the hearing hazards of these situations). There are potential risks with many every-day sounds. That’s because exposure time is as harmful as the volume. Your hearing can be injured with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you’re exposed to it for more than two hours at a time.

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

  • 30 dB: This is the sound level you would expect of everyday conversation. At this level, there won’t be a limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and a lawnmower are at this level of sound. This volume will usually become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
  • 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. 50 minutes is enough to be dangerous at this volume.
  • 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you might encounter at a mid-size sporting event or an approaching subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this sound level.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever turned your Spotify music up to max volume? That’s normally around this sound level on most smartphones. This level of exposure will become dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and damage can happen at or above this volume (think about an arena sized sports event or rock show).

How Loud is 85 Decibels?

Generally speaking, you should regard anything 85 dB or louder as putting your hearing in the danger zone. The problem is that it’s not always apparent just how loud 85 dB is. It’s not tangible in the way that a shark is tangible.

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

  • Sufficient signage and training: This especially relates to workspaces. Training and signage can help reinforce the real dangers of hearing loss (and the advantages of hearing protection). Signage could also make it clear just how loud your workspace is. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is needed or recommended.
  • Download an app: There isn’t an app that’s going to immediately protect your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s hard to determine what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be injured without you even realizing it. The solution, then, is to have this app working and keep track of the noise levels near you. This will help you develop a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (and you will also recognize immediately when things are getting too loud).

If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself

No app and no signage will ever be 100%. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to safeguard your hearing. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can bring about hearing loss. And these days, it’s never been easier to injure your ears (it’s a simple matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).

You shouldn’t increase the volume past mid way, especially if you’re listening all day. You require noise blocking headphones if you are constantly cranking up the volume to cover up background sound.

That’s the reason why it’s more significant than ever to recognize when loud becomes too loud. Increasing your own knowledge and recognition is the key if you want to do that. Protecting your ears, using ear protection, or decreasing your exposure, is easy enough. But you have to know when to do it.

That should be easier nowadays, too. Particularly now that you know what to look for.

Think you might 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.


    Hearing Aids By Tricia Leagjeld

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