Safe Headphone Volume

Safety • Oct 22, 2018

Finding a Safe Headphone Volume for Kids

Music—it’s wonderful.  These days, we can listen to it anywhere, and it’s increasingly mobile.  Many listen using portable players (think iPhones, iPods, Android devices, etc.) and use headphones to do so.

A little background:  Sound is vibration, traveling through the air as sound waves.  These sound waves get funneled by the outer ear to the middle ear, causing the eardrum and ossicles (little ear bones) to vibrate.  The amplified sound wave now travels to the inner ear, where sound is translated (via tiny hair cells, called stereocilia), into a signal and travels via the auditory nerve to the brain.

Measuring Sounds

Sound is measured in decibels (dB).  As a reference, a whisper is 30 dB; normal conversation is around 60 dB.   The louder the sound, the more damage it can cause, and the quicker the damage.  Any sound at or above 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing changes—so we try to protect ears if they may be exposed to constant loud noise. Unfortunately, we’re not able to reverse that hearing damage—and repeated long, loud noise exposure can worsen hearing.

Volume Levels

Kids often wear headphones. Many mobile devices can go up to even 100 dB if played at their maximum level.   A number of devices do have some controls to limit volume—which a parent may potentially access.  Lately, some families have also been using volume-limiting headphones, which are supposed to hit a max at 85 dB only.  Unfortunately, not all headphones passed the test: some volume-reduction controls could be bypassed, and other headphones allowed much louder sounds. So….Although volume-reducing headphones may help with protecting kids, parents should definitely still supervise use and monitor volume levels.

A good rule of thumb: Standing at arm’s length away, if your child is wearing headphones, he or she should be able to hear you ask a question.

Or, you could use the 80-90 rule:

You can listen at 80%  of volume for 90 minutes/ day.

The higher volume: less time.  Lower volume: more time.