What Sound Level is Safe For Listening?

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

Have you ever noticed the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not hard to understand that you should never dismiss a caution like that. A sign like that (specifically if written in huge, red letters) might even make you reconsider your swim altogether. But people usually don’t heed cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Recent research has found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs regarding their hearing (these studies specifically looked at populations in the UK, but there’s no doubt the problem is more global than that). Knowledge is a huge part of the problem. To be afraid of sharks is pretty intuitive. But being frightened of loud noise? And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?

Loud And Hazardous Sound is All Around us

Your hearing isn’t just in peril at a rock concert or construction site (not to downplay the hearing hazards of these scenarios). Many common sounds are potentially dangerous. That’s because it isn’t just the volume of a sound that presents a danger; it’s also the duration. Even lower-level sounds, such as dense city traffic, can be damaging to your ears when experienced for more than a couple of hours.

Generally, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this volume level. You should be just fine at this volume for an indefinite period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and lawn equipment are at this volume. After around two hours this level of sound becomes dangerous.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good illustration of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be harmful at this volume.
  • 100 dB: This is the level of sound you may experience from a mid-size sports event or an approaching subway train (depending on the city, of course). This level of sound can get dangerous after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever turned your Spotify music up to ten? On most smartphones, that’s right around this volume. This amount of exposure becomes dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and damage can occur at or above this level (consider an arena sized sporting event or rock concert).

How Loud is 85 dB?

Generally speaking, you’re in the danger zone when you’re experiencing any sound 85 dB or higher. But it can be hard to distinguish how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.

And that’s one reason why hearing cautions frequently go neglected, particularly when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. There are a couple of possible solutions to this:

  • Adequate signage and training: This applies to workspaces, in particular. The significant hazards of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the benefits of hearing protection). In addition, just how loud your workplace is, can be clarified by signage. Training can tell employees when hearing protection is needed or suggested.
  • Get an app: There isn’t an app that will directly safeguard your ears. But there are several free apps that can work as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to assess what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be injured without you even realizing it. The answer, then, is to have this app open and keep track of the sound levels around you. This will help you develop a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (Or, the app will merely let you know when things get too noisy).

When in Doubt: Protect

No signage or app will ever be perfect. So when in doubt, take the time to safeguard your hearing. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing issues. And it’s easier than ever to damage your ears (all you have to do is turn your earpods up a little too loud).

You shouldn’t raise the volume past half way, specifically if you’re listening all day. You require noise cancellation headphones if you are always cranking up the volume to block out background sound.

That’s the reason why it’s more essential 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 limiting your exposure, is pretty simple. But you have to recognize when to do it.

That should be easier nowadays, too. Particularly now that you understand what to be aware of.

Think you could have hearing loss? Schedule an exam.

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.