September 14, 2021

Avoid Hearing Loss Due to Loud Music by Measuring the Headphone Loudness Levels

Many people listen to music with headphones or earbuds on. Many people also realize that playing music loudly for prolonged periods of time will lead to permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. However, most do not know how loud is too loud as it relates to their specific volume setting on their headphones. There are, of course, rules of thumb like the 60/60 rule which take into account both duration and loudness levels.

"Never listen to music for longer than 60 minutes at a volume setting that is 60% of maximum."

However, this is necessarily a very conservative volume setting. 

Typically, one can listen to music a bit more loudly without damaging your hearing. But exactly how much more volume is too much?

The precise answer is 80 dB. At this loudness level, one can listen to music for however long you want without damaging your hearing. But how loud is 80 dB???

There are 4 easy ways to answer this question:

- Use a built-in loudness meter in your device (if it has one... all recent iPhones/iPads have this)

- Use a sound meter device (acoustic calibrator is optional)

- Use a sound meter app

- Use an online sound meter

Rather than describing how each of these methods work, watch this video instead:

Of course, there are times you might want to play the music a bit more loudly than would normally be considered safe.

That's when you have to take into consideration the duration of loud sound exposure. As long as you limit yourself to these loudness and duration levels, you should be able to avoid any permanent hearing loss.

OSHA Daily Permissible Noise Level Exposure
Hours per daySound level
.25 or less115dB

As an aside, these methods of measuring headphone loudness levels can also be used to perform headphone calibrations for use with online hearing tests.

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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