Debunking the myth that ears adapt to loud volumes

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by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist (Retired)

It’s encouraging to see a recent university news article on the danger of hearing damage from personal listening with earbuds or headphones. Unfortunately, it shares the myth that our ears adapt to loud volumes. It’s true many people with noise-induced hearing damage say they’ve gotten “used to” loud sound. This is because audio doesn’t sound the same after we’ve lost the ability to hear it normally. Developing permanent inner ear and hearing nerve damage isn’t adapting.

Despite what the article says, noise doesn’t damage the eardrums outside of very loud explosive sound events.

The article source’s recommendation to listen at 80 decibels (dB) isn’t safe enough to protect the general public from neurosensory hearing harm. Experts recommend 75 dB average as a safer upper limit for adult listening, and 70 dB average for groups-at-risk, including children. This translates to safer listening at about 50% or less of maximum volume setting for personal audio systems.

As the article states, there are many positives for personal listening users including easily accessible private audio and screening out distracting noise when out and about. But high to full volume listeners need to consider the probability—not the possibility—of hearing damage if they don’t turn audio volume down. This is true even if listening above 50% volume with noise-canceling earbuds or headphones.

The author also highlights the importance of spending time without wearing earbuds or headphones to be present in the world, take part in conversations, and build relationships. Turning personal listening volume down protects hearing health so people can continue to understand speech, enjoy music, and be social. The alternative is noise-induced hearing loss and having to adapt eventually to hearing aids.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a science enthusiast and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site,

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