Blog: 5 Steps to Avoid Music-Induced Hearing Loss
Life would not be the same without music. It’s can make us dance, fill us with joy, and bring us closer to the people around us. Unfortunately, it can also make our ears ring continuously and cause us to become deaf.
Music-induced hearing damage can set in at a very early age (teens and 20s) and the damage can be permanent. The music you listen to on a daily basis could already be well above the safe limit.
In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the essential steps that you should take to start taking your hearing health seriously. Your hearing is one of your most valuable assets, start taking action now!
(Note: this article should be used for guidance only and it is not a substitution for medical advice. Hearing loss and tinnitus are not always noise-induced. If you’re suffering from anything discussed in this article, then consult with an expert to determine the cause and possible solutions to the problem.)
What’s Causing the Problem?
Portable music devices, earbuds and speaker systems: Music has become incredibly accessible over the last few decades. The widespread adoption of portable music players means that you can listen to music throughout your entire day. High powered sound systems and professional-level headphones have also become increasingly accessible and affordable.
The average rock concert can easily reach 110 decibels or higher, which is 16 times louder than 70 decibels (the noise of an average vacuum cleaner). Exposure to this can cause serious damage. Interestingly, music you are listening to on headphones can be louder than a rock concert. This article on musicianwave also has some other great facts on this topic.
- The loudness war: The ‘loudness war’ refers to a continued and recognised increase in the volume of recorded music, which can fatigue your ears much faster. Even Taylor Swift’s albums are significantly louder than Motorhead’s ‘The Ace of Spades’.
- By the time people look for help regarding their hearing, it’s often too late. Current treatments can rarely restore the dynamic range of your hearing. However, hearing aids and other treatments massively improve the quality of life for people suffering from hearing loss, therefore if you’re suffering from these issues then be sure to talk to an expert.
Large amounts of exposure to loud noise can lead to permanent hearing damage and chronic ringing in your ears (known as tinnitus). The threshold for damaging volume is a lot lower than you might think. This could leave you with debilitating hearing issues which could seriously impact your quality of life and relationships.
5 Steps You Can Take to Minimise Hearing Loss from Music
1. Set a volume limit and stick to it
It’s very easy for your ears to be fooled. People often greatly increase their music volume when faced with noisy surroundings such as busy traffic.
Listening to music using earbuds can also give us the tendency to creep up the volume. This is comparable to old fable of boiling a frog, where the poor creature does not perceive the danger as long as the increase in temperature is slow.
Most phones and portable music players allow us to set a maximum listening volume. Set this to a reasonable volume when you’re in a quiet place.
2. Protect your hearing at clubs, concerts and festivals
- You can buy a cheap set of discreet earplugs that lower the volume but still maintain the overall sound. These are often referred to as “musician’s earplugs”, but they are perfect for everyone. They usually contain filters that allow through some of the sounds while not blocking some of the harmful frequencies.
- Particularly, if you find yourself coming home from music events with your ears ringing then you need to start considering these.
- You should make it a habit to always carry a set of these around. You can put them on your wallet or keyring for example. Even if you are at a concert with acceptable volume, you can still reach for these if it starts getting too loud.
3. Noise-isolating and noise-cancelling headphones
Noise-isolating headphones physically block outside noise and can allow you to listen at a lower volume. If you are listening to music in a very loud area and want to protect your hearing, these are often the best option.
Noise-cancelling headphones usually contain a built-in microphone that allows the device to cancel out some low-level surrounding noise before it gets to your ears. Reduced interference from outside noise can allow you to listen at lower volumes. However, they do not protect your hearing from loud surrounding noises.
Even though both of the above options can be of help, you must stay disciplined and keep the volume relatively low at all times. Otherwise, you could still be damaging your hearing.
4. Speakers instead of headphones
If possible, try to listen to music using a good set of speakers instead of always relying on headphones. It’s far easier to keep the volume at an acceptable level when you are listening through a set of speakers.
Listening to music using speakers can also be quite enjoyable because it can sound more natural than earphones.
5. Give your ears a break!
Continuous exposure to loud noise on a daily basis is one of the biggest risks to hearing damage. For example, this article states that “OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) permits an exposure to 105 decibels for one hour per day, while NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) recommends that such an exposure last less than 5 minutes”. 105 decibels is similar to the noise of a table saw.
Interestingly, even volumes that could be perceived as relatively low could harm your hearing if you listen over large time periods: “The NIOSH recommended allowable time for 85 decibels is 8 hrs per day” This is comparable to the sound of a passing truck.
The take-home message from this is to give your ears a break. If you’re walking home from a very loud music concert, then don’t blow your ears away listening to music on your phone. If you have just spent a whole day next to loud machinery, then try to limit your exposure to loud music in the evening.
We’re not invincible. Our hearing did not evolve to withstand the constant battering that we give our ears on a daily basis. Taking simple precautions for your music listening habits can make a very big difference in the long run.