In recent years, the World Health Organization has expressed a growing concern over the level of loud sounds that we are exposing our ears to in the name of relaxation, socialization and fun. Whether listening to music on personal audio devices or spending time at noisy bars, concerts and sporting events, research shows that our recreational habits are increasingly putting our ears at risk.
Here are some key facts:
- 1.1 billion young people worldwide are thought to be at risk of hearing damage due to unsafe listening practices
- Over 43 million people 12-35 years old live with disabling hearing loss
- Among young people 12-35 years in middle- and high-income countries, nearly 50 percent listen to unsafe levels of sound through personal audio devices; around 40 percent are exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at nightclubs, bars and sporting events.
In light of these worrying facts, the World Health Organization is spreading the word about noise-induced hearing loss and the safe listening habits we should all be putting into practice. Read on to find out more.
What is the safe listening threshold?
Safe listening levels depend on a combination of interrelated factors. As a rule, the louder a sound is, the shorter the duration of time you can listen to it safely. Another element in the equation is frequency: how often you are exposed to a sound. For example, someone who only visits a loud nightclub once a month has a lower risk of developing noise-related hearing loss than a club employee who works there every night.
These three factors–volume, duration, and frequency–make up the overall “sound energy” that we are exposed to. The total amount of sound energy our ears can withstand without being damaged is fairly constant from person to person, though there is some slight variation.
Lower volumes heard over long periods of time might add up to the same amount of sound energy as louder sounds which are listened to for shorter durations. It all comes down to the total sound energy your ears can receive before they reach the threshold of safe listening.
85 decibels is thought to be the highest safe exposure level for a period of eight hours; however, for children as well as some adults, this number is lower. Once sounds exceed 85 decibels, they are no longer considered safe. The amount of time we can listen to these louder sounds safely decreases exponentially as the volume increases. For example, the sound of a subway train (100 dB) can only be heard safely for 15 minutes a day.
The maximum sound output of personal audio devices varies and is dependent on whether the device has a built-in volume restrictor. Some can reach as high as 136 dB, a volume level which can cause hearing damage in just a few minutes.
Tips for safe listening:
Sounds lower than 75-80 decibels (the dB level associated with 60 percent volume on most personal audio devices) are safe for your ears, even when listening frequently for long durations of time. You can listen to music at this volume level all day and not harm your ears. However, if you are someone who is frequently exposed to sounds which are louder than 85 decibels, there are some steps you should take to ensure your future hearing health.
Here are a few simple ways to protect your hearing:
- Bring your earplugs. Whether you’re attending a live sporting event, a concert or a nightclub, chances are you’re going to be hearing some very loud noises. Doing something as simple as wearing earplugs can significantly reduce the level of loud sounds your ears are exposed to and prevent permanent hearing damage. You can get an inexpensive pair of foam earplugs from your local drugstore for a few dollars, or order a pair of custom-fitted earplugs from your hearing healthcare provider.
- Stick to the 60/60 rule. When you listen to music on your phone or mp3 player, set the volume at no louder than 60 percent, and listen for only 60 minutes at a time (after which you should take a short “listening break”). Many smartphones even allow you to set your own volume limit; set this at 60 percent to protect your ears and put your mind at ease while listening to your favorite songs.
- Opt for over-the-ear headphones. Earbuds, which sit in closer proximity to the eardrum, are more dangerous than traditional over-the-ear headphones, and can cause hearing damage in a shorter amount of time. Over-the-ear headphones also have the added benefit of being available in noise-cancelling styles, which help to ensure that you don’t overcompensate for the noise around you by turning up the volume too loud.
- Give your ears a rest. Giving your ears a chance to rest and recover is so important when you find yourself in a noisy environment such as a concert or crowded bar. Before your next big night out, set a reminder on your phone to step outside for a 10 to 20-minute listening break. This crucial quiet time allows the hair cells in your inner ear to recover from the stress of constant loud noise. And after that loud night out, research shows that your ears need up to 18 hours of quiet to recuperate. Be gentle on your ears, and your future self will thank you.
Visit us at Audibel
Are you concerned about your hearing abilities? Have you noticed changes in your hearing? Audibel is here to help. Contact us today for a comprehensive hearing test and hearing aid fitting.