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Turn Down for… What?

Turn Down for… What?

Rocking out to the latest Bruno Mars song while you run on the treadmill or turning up that episode of The Walking Dead on your next flight to drown out inflight noise could be damaging your hearing. Here’s how to know when loud is too loud.

Whether you’re listening to music on your wireless headphones or binge watching a favorite TV show on your laptop with your ear buds in so you don’t disturb a roommate, if you have the volume cranked too loud, you could be harming your hearing. In fact, 1 in 5 teens have some form of hearing loss, according to the American Osteopathic Association, which is a 30 percent increase from the 1980s and 1990s. Many experts suspect headphones and ear buds may be largely to blame for the increase in noise-induced hearing loss.

What causes noise-induced hearing loss?

Listening to something too loudly for too long causes noise-induced hearing loss. An iPhone or other smartphone can produce sounds up to 120 decibels — that’s equivalent to a rock concert or nightclub and louder than a motorcycle revving or traffic on a busy street.

A sure sign that your hearing ability is temporarily damaged is ringing in your ears when you take the headphones off, or if the world around you sounds “muffled” when you remove your listening device. However, even if you don’t have any immediate after effects, you may still be doing damage to your hearing.

Don’t hang up your headphones

You don’t have to give up listening to music or watching movies on your headphones or ear buds all together. Just make sure you don’t turn up your sound more than 60 percent maximum volume. Not sure what 60 percent is? The general rule of thumb is that you should be able to hear conversations going on around you even with your ear buds in and music on.

You should also limit the time you use your headphones to no more than 60 minutes. Need a handy way to remember the guidelines? It’s called the 60-60 rule (60 percent max volume for no more than 60 minutes).

Old style headphones that cover your ear are considered to be safer for your hearing than ear buds that pipe sounds directly into your eardrums. These old school headphones are also better at drowning out background noise, which means you can turn the volume down and still not be disturbed by conversations going on around you.

What if the damage is done?

Immediately after you crank your headphones too loudly for too long (maybe you fell asleep on a flight?) or after a night out at a club or that Drake concert, try to give your ears a 24-hour “noise diet”, where you avoid loud sounds as much as possible. This will give them time to recover and quell the ringing in your ears.

Unfortunately, once it occurs, noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible, so turn the volume down now to protect your hearing. The Hearing and Balance Center at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles offers every aspect of care from diagnosis and treatment to assistive training and physical therapy for hearing loss. Our specialists develop customized treatments, both nonsurgical and surgical, to help improve communication and restore equilibrium to our patients’ lives.

If you are in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care from some of the top otolaryngologists in the world, be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting

By Anne Fritz

Keck Medicine of USC
Univeristy of Southern California
Keck Medicine of USC
Keck Medicine of USC
Keck Medicine of USC is the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-owned academic medical centers in the Los Angeles area.