Listen Up! Dial Down the Decibels

Ever since the Sony Walkman made its debut in the 1980s, there have been pros and cons about the effect that headphones and volume can have on a person’s hearing.

However, rocking out to a Walkman, with its distorted sound and funky, over-the-ear headphones is child’s play compared to the complex, high-fidelity sounds that are produced by today’s smartphones and hi-tech earbuds.

Hearing loss is as individual as the ear buds you choose. Sound that damages your hearing may not affect someone else. It’s just that some people have tougher ears than others.

The result from long periods of or consistent exposure to sound is called Noise Induced Hearing Loss, or NIHL.

And it’s not limited to senior citizens—hearing loss can happen at any time and at any age.

Sound is measured in units called decibels. Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for NIHL to happen.

A 2015 report by the World Health Organization states that 1.1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss because of personal audio devices, such as smartphones, and levels of sound at entertainment venues, where noise levels can top 120 decibels for hours.

Here are a few examples:

  • The humming of a refrigerator
    45 decibels
  • Normal conversation
    60 decibels
  • Noise from heavy city traffic
    85 decibels
  • Motorcyles
    95 decibels
  • An MP3 player at maximum volume
    105 decibels
  • Sirens
    120 decibels
  • Firecrackers and firearms
    150 decibels

Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

What can you do? Listen responsibly.

  • Use noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds can shut out ambient (outside) noise, which allows you to listen to your device at a lower volume.
  • Apply the “60/60” rule: Keep the volume on the MP3 player under 60 percent and only listen for a maximum of 60 minutes a day.
  • Use Apple’s parental control setting to set lower sound levels on iPhones and iPods; settings are locked in place with a password.
  • Buy your kids ear protection if you take them to loud sporting events, music concerts or other noisy venues.

If you have ringing in your ears, or everything around you sounds muffled after you take out your earbuds, you need to turn down the volume—even if your hearing returns to normal, you may be damaging your hearing.

If you suspect hearing loss, you may want to consider being examined by a Otolaryngologist or ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor, or an otologist or neurotologist, which are licensed by the Medical Board of California, or an audiologist, which are licensed by the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board. In addition, the National Institutes of Health offers information on hearing loss and a list of organizations on their website.

Challenge: Test your noise knowledge with this interactive infographic from the Centers for Disease Control: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/listen-infographic.

  1 comment for “Listen Up! Dial Down the Decibels

  1. February 5, 2018 at 11:17

    Fun fact: Firearms with a silencer only get as quiet as 120-130 decibels, so hearing protection is still strongly advised.

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