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In recent years, the instances of hearing loss caused by listening to loud music via headphones have increased exponentially. According to the World Health Organisation, “1.1 billion young people (aged between 12–35 years) are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to noise in recreational settings”. To put that number into perspective, it’s roughly equivalent to the population of Africa.
While frequently going to booming nightclubs and gigs plays a role (we recommend investing in a pair of inexpensive earplugs, which will allow you to enjoy the doom metal without causing lasting damage), using personal devices at high volumes with headphones is the most widespread problem and can, in the long run, even cause debilitating tinnitus and deafness.
But what is the perfect volume for “ironically” listening to Ed Sheeran with headphones? Is there a hard and fast rule?
Don’t go above 105dB
According to the NHS and Health and Safety Executive (HSE), “noise levels above 105dB can damage your hearing if endured for more than 15 minutes each week”. The iPhone and Android phones are capable of reaching this limit at full volume – as are most laptops. If that wasn’t scary enough, there are other risks: “Lower levels, such as between 80dB and 90dB can also cause permanent damage if you’re exposed to them for hours every day,” warns the NHS website.
However, before you fling your beloved Beats headphones in the bin, there’s a simple solution you can employ to make sure you’re listening safely.
The 60:60 rule
The 60:60 rule, which has the blessing of the NHS, involves listening to music on your smartphone, MP3 player (remember those?), tablet or laptop at 60% of the maximum volume for only 60 minutes per day. If that sounds like a miserly limit, turning down the volume means you can listen for longer.
However, always make sure that you take a break to give your ears a rest and immediately stop if it starts to become uncomfortable or if your develop ringing in your ears. Most phones now have a “smart volume” setting that will warn you if you’re getting carried away and overstepping the safe listening limit. Make sure that this tool is enabled by heading to your device’s sound settings. Another useful tip is not listening to music while in a loud environment, such as the Tube, as this will encourage you to crank up the music.
An easy way to find out if your device is running at a safe level is to install the Sound Meter app for Android, or an equivalent for iOS. This will provide an easy-to-understand decibel reading for your phone.
The charity Action on Hearing Loss also recommends that, if you have to spend two hours in 100dB sound, you should implement a “detox” of at least 16 hours silence afterwards. This will allow your ears to recover from the shock and lessen the risk of permanent damage.