Volume Limiting Headphones versus WHO 60/60 Rule

[revised 12/7/17] Unprotected listening to music or noise louder than 80 dB  is proven to cause hearing loss and/or hyper ears. There are no volume limits on personal music devices. For various reasons. Including the extra loudness is needed if you plug the device into a TV or speaker system. So in a recent BBC article, the World Health Organization suggested a 60/60 rule for people using personal music players: 60 minutes a day at no more than 60% volume. I didn’t like that. Realistically, people (children, teenagers, young adults, adults) are going to listen to their personal music players or personal audio devices more than an hour a day. I know my kids do.

Research shows the majority of people actually use their personal device at a safe loudness. Below 80 dB you can listen as long as you want. Research on volume setting versus safe listening time with different types of earphones (scroll down the link to see the data) http://www.physorg.com/news80304823.html shows that at up to 50% volume there is no limit to maximum daily listening time. But the real issue is this:

Why don’t manufacturers make all headphones and earbuds with safe 80 dB volume limits?

We have seat belts when traveling by car. We use bike helmets for riding bikes. Why don’t we have safe headphones/earbuds for listening to our personal music devices? Ones that won’t let the sound go over 80 dB?

Some manufacturers do offer consumers “Volume Limiting” headphones. Mainly aimed at kids. But research shows 1 in 3 of  these “volume limiting” headphones (<85 dB) don’t work. Music louder than 85 dB comes through. Or kids turn off the volume limit. Because they can. I have even seen 95 dB “volume limiting” headphones sold for children.

My strategy, until manufacturers make the required product, is:

  • Listen below 50% volume on devices. I’m usually comfortable around 25%. My teenage sources tell me that even 50% is too loud (hurts their ears) depending on the earbud used.
  • Use headphones/earbuds with background noise reduction. These help cut out ambient noise (e.g. a crowded street, on a bus) so you don’t have to turn the device as loud to listen.
  • Try to raise awareness that we need safe headphones/earbuds manufactured for people no matter how old they are. So even if somebody turns their device up full blast, sound loudness will always stay below an 80 dB limit. And listening time would be unlimited.

While I get where the WHO is coming from, I think they missed an opportunity to put pressure on earbud/headphone manufacturers to provide consumers with a safe product. Do we want an epidemic of hearing loss/tinnitus in this generation? In future generations?

janlmayes.com/how to protect hearing from personal listening earbuds & headphones ages 12 to adult

janlmayes.com/safe personal listnening loudness limiting headphones for children ages 2 to 12


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Jan L. Mayes MSc writes horror fiction and non-fiction, and is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author, blogger and audiologist specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, hearing health education and plotting murders. Her writing has been featured at Tinnitus Today, Communique, silencity.com and The Horror News Daily.

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