Healthy Body

4 Signs Your Headphones Are Too Loud, According to an Audiologist

Tehrene Firman

Photo: Stocksy/Michela Ravasio
If you feel like you’re forever wearing earbuds, you’re not wrong. “Moving to a remote work setting has only increased our use of headphones because we’re trying not to disturb the people around us,” says Shelley Borgia, AuD, audiologist and chief medical correspondent for Lipo-Flavonoid. “In some cases, people even use headphones more often than the total amount of time they go without them.”

While using headphones might seem harmless, listening too loudly (and too often) can result in permanent damage to your hearing. You’re probably listening (to music, to your coworkers, to the television, etc.) at a higher volume than you should be without even realizing it.

“Although there isn’t a set number of ‘safe’ utilization hours, at 80 decibels—think about the noise level of a window unit air conditioner—you should not exceed eight consecutive hours. Anything longer or louder can result in lasting damage,” she says. “Given that our auditory systems are incredibly fragile, a good rule of thumb is to never exceed 50 percent of the maximum volume.”

Aside from exceeding maximum volume recommendation, Dr. Borgia says you should make yourself aware of a few other signs that your headphones are too loud in order to protect your ears and prevent hearing loss.

How to tell if your headphones are too loud

1. You’re developing headaches

Headaches happen for a number of different reasons, like dehydration or changes to your sleep routine, but a lesser-known cause is prolonged noise at a level that’s too loud. “When you stimulate your hearing system with noises at an uncomfortable level, your ear’s stereocilia—the inner ear’s microscopic cell particles—become forcefully pushed and strained,” she says. “This delivery of constant sound becomes overstimulating for your brain and produces headaches.”

2. You hear ringing, hissing, or buzzing sounds

Tinnitus—aka inner-ear ringing—is an ‘invisible’ condition where sound is perceived without an external source being present, says Dr. Borgia. “Tinnitus symptoms can develop when you’re exposed to loud volumes for extended periods of time,” she says. If you’ve noticed ringing, buzzing, hissing, or clicking sounds after using headphones, she says to turn down the volume and consult with a professional.

3. You can’t converse while wearing headphones or earbuds

If you can’t talk to your roommate while also playing your music, your headphones are too loud. “One of the quickest ways to gauge if your volume is too loud is to check if you’re able to hold conversation at the same time without raising your voice,” says Dr. Borgia. “At all times, you should be able to hear someone clearly over your headphone volume.”

4. Others can hear your music

A more obvious sign that your headphones are too loud is if someone nearby can hear your music, podcast, or whatever you’re listening to. “It’s a clear indication you should lower the volume,” says Dr. Borgia.

How to create a productive desk space—headphones, included:

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