Hearing Loss: The Dangers of Listening to Music with Excessive Intensity

Aris Setyawan
Aris Setyawan
Posted underethnomusicologymusicmusik

Some of us have certainly done this: put our favorite earphones or headset to our ears, then listen to music at a loud volume, as loud as possible. If necessary, set it at maximum volume without thinking about hearing loss. Metal music to spark enthusiasm, “distressed pop” music to accompany us to mourn our fate because we are overwhelmed with sorrow.

Listening to loud music with earphones or headsets is fun. It’s as if the world around us has disappeared; there is only us and the music we listen to. This habit can be the right place to escape and forget the problems surrounding us for a moment.

However, the habit of listening to music loudly—with speakers or earphones/headsets—is hazardous. Why? Because this habit can trigger hearing loss.

What’s hearing loss? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a person who cannot hear as well as someone with normal hearing—a hearing threshold of 20 dB or better in both ears—is said to have hearing loss. Hearing loss may be mild, moderate, or severe. It can affect one or both ears and cause difficulty hearing conversations or loud noises.

Hearing loss is a severe health problem and deserves more attention because it can affect a person’s quality of life. According to WHO data, By 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people are projected to experience some degree of hearing loss, and at least 700 million will need hearing rehabilitation. More than 1 billion young adults are at risk of permanent hearing loss—which is avoidable—because of unsafe listening practices.

This hearing loss can not only be triggered by music set at maximum volume. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, apart from music, all sounds with high sound intensity can trigger hearing loss.

The CDC classifies this sound intensity into three parts, namely 1)Daily activities, such as listening to music from gadgets and personal listening devices, especially when the volume is set to near maximum, fitness classes, and children’s toys. 2) Events, such as concerts, restaurants and bars, sporting events such as football and hockey, motorsports events such as monster truck shows, car or motorbike racing, and watching movies in the cinema. 3) Equipment and others, such as electric tools, gas-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers, sirens, firearms, and firecrackers.

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). A whisper into our ear is about 30 dB, a normal conversation is about 60 dB, and a motorcycle engine is about 95 dB. Noise above 70 dB for a long time can damage our hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate and permanent damage to our ears.

How loud something sounds to us is not the same as the actual intensity of that sound. Sound intensity is the amount of sound energy in a limited space. It is measured in decibels (dB). The decibel scale is logarithmic, meaning loudness is not directly proportional to sound intensity. On the contrary, the excellent intensity proliferated. That is, sound at 20 dB is ten times stronger than at 10 dB. In addition, sound intensity at 100 dB is one billion times stronger than sound at 10 dB.

Two sounds that have the same intensity are not necessarily the same loudness. Loudness refers to how we perceive a sound to be heard. Sounds that sound loud in a quiet room may not be heard on a street corner with heavy traffic, even though the sound intensity is the same. To measure loudness, the sound should be increased by 10 dB to make it sound twice as loud. For example, ten violins will sound only twice as loud as one violin.

The risk of damaging our hearing from noise increases with the intensity of the sound, not the loudness of the sound. If we need to amplify our voices to be heard at close range, the noise level in our environment is likely to be above 85 dB in sound intensity and can damage our hearing over time.

To better understand how sound affects our hearing health, check out the following infographic:

From the infographic above, we can measure how many sound decibels are average, and in the safe zone for our ears and which sound exceeds the safe threshold so that it can be dangerous.

• Up to 80 dB (green): no risk to ears, regardless of the duration of sound exposure.

• From 80 to 90 dB (yellow): we are getting closer to the danger zone, but the risk is limited to very long exposures.

• From 90 to 115 dB (red): danger zone: the louder the sound, the less time it takes for damage to occur.

• Above 115 dB (brown), a concise sound immediately causes irreversible damage.

After understanding the safe threshold for a sound, we should estimate how secure the sound being exposed to us is and what preventive measures we can take to deal with it.

Back to the habit of listening to music, especially if we listen to music through earphones or headsets, we must understand that listening to music through the two devices ranges from 70 dB to 100 dB. With such high sound intensity, if we are exposed to sound for a long time, we can experience hearing loss over time.

The real problem is that we often need to pay more attention to the intensity of this sound. Even though in most of today’s sophisticated gadgets, notifications or warnings will usually appear when we listen to music at a volume that is too loud and for a long duration, for example, more than an hour. We are often more concerned with eargasm (read: ear satisfaction) rather than the safety of our sense of hearing.

I once tweeted about the dangers of listening to loud music with earphones or headsets. Then a Twitter user with the account name @nugiwinki replied to my tweet. The point of his reply was that he was experiencing hearing loss due to the habit of listening to loud music through a headset. He said that now his ears are in bad condition, one is permanently damaged, and he has one healthy ear left, which he keeps fit. Reflecting on what happened to @nugiwinki, we should be pretty aware, right? Before regretting later, we must take preventive action.

Then what steps should we take to protect our sense of hearing and avoid hearing loss? First, we must know that exposure to high-intensity sound is dangerous. By reading this article up to this point, we should be aware of hearing health issues.

Second, we must start changing our habits. When listening to music through earphones or headsets, we can set the music with an intensity below 80 dB. Even that must be given a time limit, or we can rest our ears for a moment after listening to music, for example, for an hour.

Third, take preventive action. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, as much as possible, we should avoid excessive noise. When watching a music concert or music festival, for example, where the sound intensity can range from 85 dB to 115 dB, it’s a good idea to rest our ears for a while if we feel the sound around us has started to disturb our comfort. For example, we were wearing (read: stuffing) our ears with earbuds or taking a short break in the corner of the venue that is quieter and far from the sound source.

Preventive actions can also be started by knowing how noisy our environment is. Once we know our place is boisterous, we can figure out how to deal with the noise. To find out the noise level around us, we can use the software on our smartphones—for example, Sound Meter on an Android phone or NIOSH Sound Level Meter on an iOS phone.

Love your ears! Listen to music at a moderate sound intensity! Because the ear is critical. Suppose our ears are exposed to high-intensity sounds for too long, such as an airplane taking off with an intensity above 120 dB. In that case, our ears can experience irreversible damage, aka permanent damage that cannot be changed (read: cured).

Quoting and modifying the lyrics of the song “Jagalah Hati” (Keep Your Heart)” sung by AA Gym, “Jagalah kuping! Jangan kau kotori. Jagalah kuping! Ciptaan Sang Ilahi”. (Take care of your ears! Don’t you make it dirty! Take care of your ears! Creation of the Divine.”

PS: Previously featured in Bahasa Indonesia on Pop Hari Ini.

Taggeddecibelearphoneheadsethearing lossMusicsound

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