One person’s music may be another person’s noise, but the content of the sound doesn’t matter. Elevated sound pressure levels can damage your hearing no matter what the source. When you’re listening to music you love, though, you might overindulge in both volume and time, and it’s precisely this relationship that can lead to hearing loss.

Hearing & Balance Services of Reston can help you monitor your own ear health, as well as help you understand how listening to music in different settings may affect your hearing.

Noise exposure limits

Measured in units called decibels (dB), noise refers to all the sounds around you that your ears perceive. The volume of noise can, by itself, cause hearing damage if it’s loud enough, but most noise-exposure hearing loss comes from listening to more moderate sounds over time.

Your ears can get tired, much like your muscles can during a workout. When you exercise too long or too intensely, you can damage those muscles. While the same holds true for your ears, hearing damage is often permanent. You can’t simply rest and recover as you might with sore muscles. Prevention is key.

The louder sounds are, the shorter the time you can spend listening safely. For workplaces, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines a sound exposure “dose” for workers as eight hours of exposure to sounds at 85 dB. Eight hours may seem like lots of time to listen to music, but 85 dB isn’t all that loud. If you’re at a nightclub listening to music, sounds may easily reach 100 dB. You could exceed that dose in as little as 15 minutes without some form of hearing protection.

Earbuds and headphones expose you to potentially dangerous sound pressure levels that are difficult to determine. In addition, when it’s your favorite artist, your tolerance for volume may be more lenient than normal. Here are five tips to help you avoid music-induced hearing loss.

1. Understand volume exposure limits

No matter what your favorite listening environment, understand how loud the music is and adjust the level and your listening time accordingly. Locate smartphone apps that measure the levels of ambient sounds at concerts or rehearsals, especially if you’re a performer.

2. Use full-range hearing protection

Commonly called musicians’ earplugs, you can purchase affordable ear protection that doesn’t muffle sound the way typical foam earplugs do. Typical musicians’ earplugs reduce volume levels as much as 25 dB, so you may find a product that’s ideal for your preferred listening experience.

3. Noise-cancelling headphones

Using personal listening devices that block background noise can help you listen to your music at lower levels without distraction. You still have to maintain volume discipline, but without ambient sound, you may achieve safe listening levels more easily.

4. Choose speakers

Using speakers for your music offers safety advantages that earbuds or headphones might not. Measuring volume levels using smartphone apps gives you a way to monitor music levels, and the extra distance from the sound source provides a margin of safety.

5. Rest your ears

Remember that dangerous sound levels require both high volumes and long exposures. Being mindful and resting your ears before damage occurs permits recovery.

Moderation is key to any healthy sound environment. If you need custom ear impressions for musicians’ earplugs, or if you have any concerns about your hearing, contact Hearing & Balance Services of Reston. Our team are standing by to help you.