When Can Headphones and Earbuds Damage Your Hearing?

Woman grimacing while listening to music on a pair of headphonesGang Liu / Shutterstock

Conversations about hearing loss caused by headphones have disappeared, but headphones and earphones still pose a serious risk to your ears. How strong is too strong, and how do you protect your ears without giving up music?

The threshold for hearing damage is 85 dB

Most doctors agree that 85 dB is the threshold for hearing damage. After repeated long-term exposure to sounds greater than or equal to 85 dB, you can expect hearing loss or tinnitus. And while you may assume that 85 dB is "extremely loud," there is a good chance that you will be exposed to sounds that exceed this threshold every day. Lawn mowers and busy restaurantsfor example, tend to emit about 90 dB of sound.

Do not worry, a morning session or dinner at Applebee will not result in hearing loss. Doctors agree that your ears can withstand up to eight hours of exposure to 85 dB. But as you can imagine, as the volume increases, your audience tolerance decreases. Your ears just can not support 100 dB for eight hours. This is where music lovers should start to worry.

RELATED: Hearing impairment: how bad is it?

What happens after 85 dB?

Your headphones and your audio source determine the volume of your music. But overall, almost any combination of phones, amplifiers and headsets can push well above the 85 dB threshold. Some headphones can even pass between 110 to 120 dB interval. At this volume level, your ears can handle about a minute of exposure before suffering damage.

Headphones next to an amplifierPelfophoto / Shutterstock

You see, the relationship between dB level and volume tolerance is not linear. At 90 dB, a four-hour exposure period will result in permanent hearing loss. Go up to 95 dB and your ears can only withstand two hours of exposure. Push it up to 110 dB, and your ears can only take 1 minute and 29 seconds.

Can you measure the dB level of your headphones?

If you want to know for sure that your headphones or earphones are above the 85 dB threshold, you will be in trouble. Measuring the dB level of your headphones accurately is difficult.

Most dBmeters are designed to calculate the volume of an environment, such as a restaurant or construction site. But the sound of headphones and ear buds is designed to pull directly into your ears and not into a room. So, to use a dBmeter with a headset, you have to stick the headphones right against the meter. At best, you will get a semi-accurate reading.

Now, do you want to buy a 50 dB meter for a "semi-precise" reading? Probably not. You can always check with a free dB meter app, like Sound level meter, or Sound analyzer, but this reading will be less than "semi-precise".

Let's be honest; if you are worried that your headphones are too loud, they are probably too much. You may not know exactly how much your headphones are, but staying alert and changing your listening habits are the only steps that will help you find a comfortable listening volume.

Pay attention to what you are doing

One of the best ways to limit your volume is to limit it. When using headphones or earphones, take a second to ask if the sound is too loud. If you do not feel like doing this kind of effort, you can still find a comfortable volume level that you set as the threshold. This threshold can be "halfway" on the volume slider of a mobile phone or on a specific number from a more detailed audio source.

Girl listening to music with headphones standing against a muralEugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock

You can also set the volume threshold for music in the streaming application you are using. Most streaming applications have a "volume normalization" function in their settings, which can be set to "low".

Another thing to watch for is the fatigue of listening. When you listen to music (or all of its sound), your ears start to get tired (not damaged, but tired). As a result, your music seems "quieter". What do you do when your music seems calm? Well, you turn up the volume.

Increasing the volume when your ears are exhausted is a bad idea, but most people do not realize they are doing it. If you find yourself increasing the volume throughout a listening session, leave your ears a minute to cool off. Take out your ear buds and tolerate the annoying sound of your colleagues or your abnormally quiet bedroom for at least 10 minutes.

Focus on quality rather than volume

Most people listen to loud music because they like to hear every detail, not because they want their ears to bleed. If your headphones or earbuds sound like low-volume garbage, you should consider investing in better audio equipment.

No, you do not have to buy bizarre $ 1,000 audiophile equipment to get high quality sound. There are many high quality headphones and headphones it costs less than $ 200. If you wear headphones in a noisy environment, you can always take good Noise cancellation headphones. I know that $ 200 is still a lot of money, but a good headset sounds good at low volume and can last a decade if treated properly. (A good pair of headphones will also sound great at high volume, in case you want it.)

Older man really enjoying the sound quality of his expensive headphonesKite_rin / Shutterstock

Although we talk about equipment, it's important to note that a good pair of over-the-ear headphones will always produce superior sound to a good pair of headphones. Headphones have their place, but if you tend to listen to music at home (where no one can make fun of you to look like a gaffe), you should consider taking a headset on-ear.

If you do not want to lose a few hundred dollars on expensive audio equipment, try adjusting your EQ settings. Most cell phones and amplifiers are powerful, automatic adjustments of the equalizer, which can increase the quality of your audio at lower (and higher) volumes.

The last resort: wear kid-proof headphones

Sometimes you have to take drastic action to change bad habits. If you are addicted to violently loud music, you can try to punish yourself with headphones with volume limitation or headphones limiting the volume. These headphones are designed specifically for children, and they can not exceed 85 dB. They probably do not have the best sound quality, but hey, that's part of the punishment.

RELATED: The best child helmet with volume limitation


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