How much time and how much volume can you listen to music without damaging your hearing?


The noise epidemic is paradoxically silent. It is a ghost that is present when we can hear the music that comes out of the headphones of someone sitting in front of us on the subway while having a drink with friends in a club or screaming frantically with thousands of others in a football stadium.

No one is safe from it, but it especially affects young people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that 1.1 billion young people around the world are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to noise that are part of our daily habits.

More than 43 million people between the ages of 12 and 35 already suffer from disabling hearing loss in developed countries.

In a report published on the occasion of the International Day of Ontological Care (hearing care), which takes place on Tuesday, WHO estimates that 50% of this age group is exposed to risks due to the use of MP3 players and smartphones, and 40% for harmful noise levels in clubs, discos, and bars.

Experts consider that 85 decibels (dB) for a maximum of 8 hours is the maximum level of exposure without risks that the human being can assume. The allowable time space decreases as the sound intensity increases.

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The question is best answered by reference to concrete examples.

The output volume of personal audio devices, such as headphones, can range between 75 dB and 136 dB at its maximum volume.

The WHO report recommends not using more than one hour at a volume under these devices.

In nightclubs, discos, and bars, the average noise levels can range between 104 dB and 112 dB, and according to the parameters set by the WHO after 15 minutes it would no longer be safe. The same happens in sports facilities, where the level oscillates between 80 dB and 117 dB.

Exposure to these environments causes fatigue in the auditory sensory cells, which results in a temporary loss of hearing or tinnitus (that sensation of buzzing in the ears, for example, when leaving a concert).

Hearing improves as these cells recover, but when “sounds are very loud or exposure occurs regularly or prolonged, sensory cells and other structures may be permanently damaged, causing irreversible loss of hearing, “warns the WHO.

To get an idea of the high exposure we endure due to our cultural and leisure habits, it is enough to know that in 15 minutes of music at 100 dB, a person is exposed to noise levels similar to those absorbed by an industrial worker in a day of 8 hours working in a sound environment of 85 dB.

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Safe listening times

Some examples of maximum listening times recommended by WHO are:

  • 85 dB: noise level inside a car. Eight hours.
  • 90 dB: lawn mower. Two hours and 30 minutes.
  • 95 dB: noise from an average motorcycle. 47 minutes
  • 100 dB: car horn or underground train.15 minutes.
  • 105 dB: mp3 player at full volume. Four minutes.

In addition to keeping these time limits in mind, the provides other tips:

Keep the volume low.

You have to regulate the volume free of risks in your personal device and not exceed 60% of the maximum volume. In the same way, you have to use earplugs when going to a disco or a Noisy event.

Limit the time you spend on noisy activities.

The duration of exposure to noise is one of the main factors to take care of. It is advisable to make brief listening breaks (for example, leaving the club where you are) and limit the use of headphones to one hour a day.

Monitor safe levels of noise exposure.

Using smartphone technology to measure noise exposure levels can help.

Pay attention to the warning signs of hearing loss.

WHO recommends going to a doctor if you find it difficult to hear high-pitched sounds such as ringing, the telephone or the alarm clock or to understand speech over the phone and even to follow conversations in noisy environments?

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