With personal listening, it has never been easier to listen to music or audio content whenever and wherever people want. Science shows unsafe personal listening habits can cause permanent progressive hearing health damage. In less than 5 years, people can develop tinnitus (noises in the ears or head) and decreased sound tolerance (sound sensitivity or hyperacusis). Music becomes distorted or off-pitch. Conversations are unclear and hard to understand. This is called hidden hearing loss because hearing thresholds still measure within normal limits despite functional hearing problems. With unsafe personal listening of 5 or more years, permanent noise-induced hearing loss develops in listeners as young as 9 years old.
There are currently no limits on devices, earbuds, or headphone volume output that are strict enough to be safe for personal listening (<70 dB to 75 dB average max volume). It’s up to each individual teen or adult to limit volume to protect their hearing, music appreciation, and social interactions. Guidelines include:
- Always use personal listening volume below 50%. Scientists believe this is likely safe for hearing health whether you use headphones, earbuds, stock earbuds, noise cancelling earbuds or headphones, or loudness limiting headphones.
- Earbuds and headphones with noise cancelling or noise isolating features are safer, because users can listen at a lower volume even when in ambient or background noise environments. These work best for background noise or hum from travelling by airplane, transit, office noise, or similar situations.
- Earbuds with deeper fit in the ear canals are safer than flat stock earbuds because volume doesn’t need to be turned up as loud to listen comfortably even if earbuds are not specifically advertised as sound isolating.
- Humming, singing, dancing, or exercising while personal listening helps lower the hearing health risk.
- If you have to turn the volume up above 50% to hear at a noisy job (e.g. construction, mills, manufacturing), it is better to use hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs. Hearing protection is available with built-in wired or wireless radio, music, or personal listening connectivity for safe listening at work while screening out hazardous noise.