Signs Your Headphones Are Too Loud

Hear­ing loss is on the rise, with esti­mates that almost 2.5 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide – 25 per­cent of our glob­al pop­u­la­tion – will live with some degree of loss by 2050. One of the main caus­es of hear­ing loss – loud noise – can be hard to avoid, espe­cial­ly as both chil­dren and adults are plugged into portable devices with head­phones and ear­buds more than ever. Lis­ten­ing to devices through head­phones at a high vol­ume, for extend­ed peri­ods of time, can result in life­long hear­ing loss. 

Most tech­nol­o­gy today can pro­duce sounds up to 120 deci­bels, which is equiv­a­lent to being at a live music con­cert. Hear­ing loss at this vol­ume can hap­pen quick­ly – as soon as an hour and fif­teen min­utes after lis­ten­ing to sound at that lev­el.[1] Noise induced hear­ing loss (NIHL) occurs when the hair cells in the ear are dam­aged or destroyed by increased noise expo­sure. When that hap­pens, hair cells can no longer send infor­ma­tion about sounds to the brain, which reduces or impacts your abil­i­ty to hear those sounds. Humans are unable to re-grow these hair cells, mak­ing this dam­age permanent. 


To pre­vent NIHL, you need to ensure that you are car­ing for your hear­ing prop­er­ly when wear­ing head­phones. Head­phones and ear­buds are not nec­es­sar­i­ly bad or dan­ger­ous, but need to be used respon­si­bly in order to keep your ears safe. 

Here are some guide­lines to fol­low to ensure you are pre­vent­ing hear­ing loss from head­phone usage:

  • Fol­low the 60/60 rule. Lis­ten at 60 per­cent of the max­i­mum vol­ume for 60 min­utes at a time. After that, give your ears a break from your head­phones. You may find it help­ful to set a timer or reminder so you know when those 60 min­utes are up.
  • Use noise-can­celling or noise-reduc­ing head­phones. These allow you to main­tain a low­er vol­ume lev­el when lis­ten­ing to a movie or music since you don’t have to turn up the vol­ume to over­come out­side noise distractions.
  • Make sure your head­phones fit prop­er­ly. If they are too loose and you feel like you are los­ing sound, you may turn up the vol­ume to more harm­ful lev­els to compensate.
  • Use larg­er head­phones. Select the type that rest over the ear open­ing instead of earphones/​earbuds that are placed direct­ly in your ear. These may have more poten­tial for hear­ing dam­age than head­phones because they sit clos­er to the eardrum and pro­vide more direct vibra­tion, increas­ing the deci­bel lev­el of the sound by sev­en to nine deci­bels from its orig­i­nal lev­el.[2]
  • Set a vol­ume lim­it. Only you should be able to hear your music, so if it can be heard by some­one else in the room, it’s too loud. Check your device too, some allow you to set cus­tom vol­ume lim­its to bet­ter pro­tect your ears.

Over­all, the loud­er the vol­ume in your head­phones, the short­er your dura­tion of lis­ten­ing should be. Avoid­ing exces­sive use of lis­ten­ing devices alto­geth­er will go a long way in pre­vent­ing hear­ing loss.


It’s hard to know if over­ex­po­sure to loud nois­es has impact­ed your hear­ing. Typ­i­cal­ly, it’s diag­nosed once you feel the effects and the dam­age has been done. Signs of hear­ing loss from head­phones are not imme­di­ate and can progress over a long peri­od of time. Be sure to mon­i­tor your hear­ing, any of the fol­low­ing symp­toms may indi­cate you have start­ed to devel­op hear­ing issues:[3]

  • Ring­ing, roar­ing, hiss­ing or buzzing in the ear
  • Dif­fi­cul­ty under­stand­ing speech in noisy places or places with poor acoustics
  • Muf­fled sounds and a feel­ing that your ear is plugged or blocked
  • Lis­ten­ing to TV or radio at a high­er vol­ume than in the past


Hear­ing loss caused by over­ex­po­sure to loud nois­es is irre­versible, which makes pre­ven­tion crit­i­cal. If you have suf­fered hear­ing loss, there are var­i­ous treat­ment options avail­able to try to improve your hear­ing or help you adapt to it. The most com­mon treat­ments for hear­ing loss due to noise is use of hear­ing aids or cochlear implants. A hear­ing aid will ampli­fy sound and direct it into your ear canal. For more severe cas­es, cochlear implants are used, which bypass dam­aged or non­work­ing parts of your inner ear and direct­ly stim­u­late the hear­ing nerve to increase over­all hear­ing. Your audi­ol­o­gist can help you deter­mine which treat­ment is best for you.[4]

It is cru­cial that care is exer­cised when using head­phones. Mod­er­a­tion is key when it comes to min­i­miz­ing dam­age to your hear­ing and avoid­ing long-term issues. If you notice any symp­toms of hear­ing loss, sched­ule an appoint­ment online with one of our audi­ol­o­gists to get your hear­ing tested.


[2] https://​www​.brit​.co/​s​t​o​p​-​headp…


[4] https://​www​.may​oclin​ic​.org/dis…

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