How to avoid hearing damage

How to counter the risk of hearing loss but not miss out on entertainment.
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01.Hearing damage

Hearing damage

Excessively loud music or video, internet and other forms of media accompanied by sound, can damage our hearing. Prolonged excessive volume in any form can lead to such issues as ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus, and even permanent loss of hearing.

It’s a case of moderating the volume you are exposed to. While everyone is different, in general it’s important to make sure you don’t have exposure to loud noises over a long period of time.

Our Workplace Health and Safety laws state that workers should not be exposed to noise levels over 85 decibels over a period of 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. 85 decibels is like someone shouting at you from two metres away, a vacuum cleaner or a noisy restaurant. See the table below for examples of decibel levels.

If you work in an environment that is noisy, it’s important to wear hearing protection, take breaks from the noise and give your ears time to recuperate. That’s a good idea for your leisure activities as well. If you like loud music try to limit the amount of time you spend listening to it – a good indication of music being too loud is you should be able to hear a conversation taking place a metre away when you have your ear buds in or headphones on. If you can’t hear it, turn down your volume.

If you can hear the music from someone else’s headphones or ear buds, it’s also a pretty good indication that they have their music turned up too loud. Action on Hearing Loss recommends “regular breaks from the music or other noise source. Aim for at least ten minutes’ break every hour”.

The sound scale

It may be tempting to increase the volume when listening to a media player to cover other noises such as traffic, road works or the conversation of others nearby, however it’s worth noting that the sound scale is logarithmic – or a small increase in dBA is a large increase in the intensity of sound. Say we listen to music at 85dBA, and raise the volume for some reason to 95dBA – our ear only registers that sound increase as double because of the way we hear sound, but the power behind it has increased by ten times, doubling for each increase by 3dBA.

So when you are tempted to increase the volume for your favourite song, remember to turn it back down. If you have your volume turned up, you are also more likely to miss cues from the environment around you such as traffic.

Generally, our ears can handle high volumes for a short period – at 95dBA, our limit is 15 minutes. Longer listening will cause ringing in the ears or head and may cause permanent damage. In 2005, the National Acoustics Laboratory released research that showed around 25% of people listen to music on personal media players at volumes beyond recommended workplace levels.

Portable media players, generically known as MP3 players, often have the capacity for playing above safe volume levels. As hearing loss has been further researched, some manufacturers, such as Apple and Sony, have proactively made controls available that limit volume but these need to be activated by the consumer. Apple has also made parental controls available for the volume of their portable media players that implement a code so children can’t undo the volume limitation.

Decibel Level (dBA)
Similar to...
Whispered conversation
Normal conversation
Shouted conversation from 2 metres away - Acceptable level of risk in work environment
Busy street
Power tools
Pneumatic drill or motorcycle
Classical concert
Rock concert
Movie theatre peaked at this level Godzilla in 1998
Immediate damage to hearing



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