Earbud Safety With Volume and Decibel Levels

by Barbara J. Feldman on February 27, 2008

Hearing loss is something many people think is an unavoidable part of aging. However, this is just not true. It is possible to protect yourself and your ears from some of the common causes of hearing loss. One of the biggest ways is to simply pay attention to the level of sound, or the decibels.

Watching decibel levels is not all about keeping your stereo volume low, even short-term exposure to loud noises, such as explosions, fireworks, or jet engines can cause hearing loss. So, you need to be careful when around really loud noises. However, longer term exposure to not as loud noises can also cause major damage to your hearing. Your MP3 might be awesome, but it also might be damaging your ears.

Sound is measured in decibels, or dB. Anything that is louder than 85 dB can cause hearing loss. Believe it or not, the amount of time you are exposed to high decibels of sound is just as important as the rate of decibels. So, an occasional loud noise may cause you less loss then a long time of a much quieter sound. For example, 8 hours at 85 dB causes as much damage as 4 hours at 88 dB, 2 hours at 91 dB, or just 15 minutes at 100 dB.

If you are going to be exposed to something louder then 85dB or higher, you should use ear protection, or you risk permanent hearing loss. The only way to get hearing loss back is through the use of hearing aids or a surgical cochlear implant. So, now that you know how loud things can be, you need to take a look at the actual decibel level or ratings of the common sounds around you. It may surprise you how some of your daily activities may be noisier than you think.

Here are the decibel ratings of some common sounds:

firecracker: 150 dB
ambulance siren or airplane taking off: 120 dB
nightclub: 120 dB
movie theatre: up to 117 dB
rock concert: 110-125 dB
listening to music with headphones: 105-120 dB if the volume is cranked up to the maximum setting (earbuds, such as those found with popular music-listening devices like MP3 and CD players, can add 6-9 dB to the volume)
motorcycle: 95 dB
noisy restaurant or heavy traffic in the city: 85 dB
riding in a car: 70 dB
normal conversation: 60 dB
fridge humming: 40 dB
whispering: 30 dB

I am sure you noticed that using earbuds can greatly increase the decibels and thus, they are not that wise to use. If you want to protect your hearing when wearing earbuds do the following:

The best thing you can do is just not wear them at all, however, this is usually not an option.
It is good to put covers over your earbuds as this can reduce the dB level a little.
Do not push your earbuds in too far.
Keep the volume quite a bit lower than you think you need as the sound is far louder than you realize. It is always a good idea to keep your volume below sixty percent, and not listen with earbuds for more than an hour a day.
Pay attention to whether or not you have any loss. You may notice you say “what?” more often, if you do, it is time to turn it down.

Keep your decibel level below 85, and protect your hearing.

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Cite This Page

Feldman, Barbara. "Earbud Safety With Volume and Decibel Levels." Surfnetkids. Feldman Publishing. 27 Feb. 2008. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. <http://www.surfnetkids.com/tech/1359/earbud-safety-with-volume-and-decibel-levels/ >.


  • Pok

    You forgot to mention that decibels are measured in orders of magnitude: they’re not additive.
    Failing to mention this may lead to people to believe that say 5 people whispering is the same as a firecracker.

  • http://www.noisekiller.co.uk jason @ soundproofing

    I think a lot of people will be amazed at the db of some of those everyday things. 30db for whispering?