What Sound Level is Safe For Listening?

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

Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not exactly a warning you ignore. A warning like that (especially if written in large, red letters) may even make you reconsider your swim altogether. Inexplicably, though, it’s more challenging for people to heed warnings about their hearing in the same way.

Recent studies have found that millions of individuals ignore warning signs when it comes to their hearing (this research exclusively considered populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s no doubt the concern is more global than that). Knowledge is a huge part of the problem. Fear of sharks is fairly instinctive. But being frightened of loud noise? And how do you know how loud is too loud?

Loud And Hazardous Sound is All Around us

Your ears are not just in peril at a rock concert or construction site (although both of those venues are, without a doubt, harmful to your hearing). Many every-day sounds are potentially dangerous. That’s because exposure time is as dangerous as the volume. Your hearing can be damaged with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you’re exposed to it for more than two hours at a time.

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

  • 30 dB: This is the volume level you would find in normal conversation. You should be just fine at this volume for an indefinite time period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and lawn equipment are at this level of sound. After about 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 dangerous at this volume.
  • 100 dB: This is the level of sound you might experience from a mid-size sports event or an approaching subway train (of course, this depends on the city). This level of sound can become hazardous 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 level. This amount of exposure is dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or very large sporting events) can produce instant injury and pain in your ears.

How Loud is 85 Decibels?

Generally, you’re hearing is in danger when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or higher. The issue is that it isn’t always clear just how loud 85 dB is. A shark is a tangible thing but sound isn’t so tangible.

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

  • Adequate signage and training: This is true of the workplace, in particular. The significant risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). Signage could also make it clear just how noisy your workspace is. Training can tell employees when hearing protection is required or recommended.
  • 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 ears can be injured without you even realizing it. The answer, then, is to have this app open and track the noise levels around you. This will help you establish a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (and you will also discern immediately when things are getting too loud).

When in Doubt: Protect

No signage or app will ever be perfect. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to protect your ears. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing issues. And it’s easier than it ever has been to injure your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your music too loudly).

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

That’s why it’s more essential than ever to recognize when the volume becomes too loud. Increasing your own knowledge and awareness is the answer if you want to do that. It isn’t difficult to limit your exposure or at least wear ear protection. But you have to recognize when to do it.

That should be easier nowadays, too. That’s even more relevant now that you have some insight.

Schedule a hearing test today if you think you might have hearing loss.

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.