Hearing Blog

How loud and for how long is key to avoiding noise-induced hearing damage

March 17, 2022

Exposure to loud noise is the second leading cause of hearing loss — after aging. It’s also one of the only causes that are preventable. We can’t do anything about aging or heredity. But we can minimize our exposure to noise, or at least take steps to protect our hearing.

As a society, we’ve come a long way in taking hearing protection seriously. Ask an older adult about wearing hearing protection “back in the day” and they’ll probably just laugh at you.

Today, though, earplugs and earmuffs and other hearing protection measures are not only common on construction sites, at industrial workplaces, or in settings or activities where loud noise is the norm, they’re often mandatory.

This increased knowledge of and evolution towards good hearing safety practices, however, has coincided with the advancement and ubiquitousness of headphones and particularly earbuds. So even though we’re more aware than ever about the dangers of noise exposure — we’re also in an era where seemingly everyone is listening to music, podcasts, phone conversations, or Zoom calls — via earbuds — throughout their day.

Experts say that’s ok — so long as we don’t listen too loud for too long. The key to not damaging your ears is balancing volume level with a length of listening, says Cleveland Clinic audiologist, Sharon Sandridge, Ph.D. “Eighty percent volume for a maximum of 90 minutes at a time is the general rule of thumb,” she notes. 

The equipment, too, can make a difference. Earbuds that fit loosely in the ear canal let in ambient noise — so people typically turn up the volume to compensate. With over-the-ear or noise-cancelling headphones, outside noise doesn’t compete with what you’re listening to, so it’s less tempting to blast the volume in return. 

Be mindful of how loud you listen and for how long, and hopefully you won’t be one of the 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults that the World Health Organization predicts are at risk of hearing loss due to “unsafe use of personal audio devices” and exposure to loud sounds.

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