Monitor Sound Level Exposure

To monitor your exposure to loud sounds you can download a sound level meter app (NIOSH makes a good one) on your phone or tablet. You can then use the charts below to see how long you can listen safely at what volume. Make sure the sound level meter is set to A weighted when using the below charts.

Make sure your phone or device is at or near your ears for the most accurate reading. For example, if you leave it in your pocket, the fabric will muffle the sound and you won't get an accurate result. Even having your phone out on a table may not accurately represent what the sound is doing at the level of your ear, so hold the device up near your face to get a reading of the sound level. This goes for smart watches with built-in sound level meters, taking a reading from your wrist when your arms are down may not accurately represent how loud the sound is at your ear. 

If you are using a sound level meter that will average your dose over time and you are listening in situations where the sound level is fluctuating, such as at a concert, take the reading for several minutes (or longer) so you can see what the average exposure level is, but also remember to look at what the peak (or loudest) level is. 

Earphone and Headphone Listening

  • Use well-fitted headphones and earphones that attenuate environmental sounds effectively, reducing the need to raise the volume. 
  • ​Keep the volume down and, if possible, limit the amount of time spent listening through earphones and headphones. 
  • Use an app or feature that monitors your sound levels. 
  • Enable features that limit the volume of your devices. 
  • Take ear breaks, give your ears time to rest and recover from wearing earphones and headphones. 
  • Listen to your bodies warning signs that you are listening too long and/or too loud. Adjust your listening habits if you experience tinnitus, temporary hearing loss, and listener fatigue.




Headphone & Earphone use

Permanent, noise-induced hearing loss means your hearing is never coming back, that is why it is so important to protect your hearing!

Take advantage of apps or features on your personal listening devices or phone that track your sound exposure. Activate options for volume limiting and parental controls for volume limits. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Both the NIOSH and WHO recommendations still leave a percentage of the population at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. In order to eliminate the risk of measurable noise-induced hearing loss (as researched for audiometric levels of 500-6000 Hz), the exposure limit would be 70 dBA over a 24-hour period with a 3 dB exchange rate. This equates to an exposure limit of 75 dBA over an 8-hour work day (assuming that during the remaining 16 hours there is 60 dBA or less of noise exposure). 

 Both NIOSH and WHO recommendations are based on occupational noise exposure research and data which may not adequately predict safe exposure limits for music exposure or for exposure in the general population; however, because of the tremendous variation in types and patterns of music and a lack of research available, the adoption of these conservative exposure guidelines is considered appropriate for assessing risk from music exposure.

Resources: WHO


How long and at what volume can you listen before your ears are at risk?

Safe listening for 1 day based on NIOSH recommendations. 


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have suggested a damage-risk criteria as a basis for recommending noise exposure limits based on noise level and exposure time. NIOSH recommends an exposure limit of 85 dBA for 8 hours per day, and uses a 3 dB exchange rate (for every 3 dB decrease in noise level, the allowable exposure time is doubled). NIOSH recommendations are based on occupational noise exposure. NIOSH recommendations have been shown to protect 92% of the population. (Resource:

Did you know?

The output of personal listening devices can range from 76 dB to as high as 136 dB.​2

Although many people report concern about noisy environments, not nearly enough people take protective steps, but there are some simple ways to take charge of your hearing health:

Did you know?

Promoting and practicing safe listening is one of the simplest ways to prevent hearing loss caused by recreational sound exposure. ​2 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested dose-response relationships for recommending noise exposure limits based on noise level and exposure time. WHO recommends an exposure limit of 80 dBA for 8 hours per day, and uses a 3 dB exchange rate. The graph to the right shows how long you can safely listen to a level of sound over the course of 1 week, assuming all other exposure is 60 dBA or less. (Resource: WHO)

Did you know?

Nightclubs and bars have an average sound level ranging from 104 to 112 dB.​2

Protect Your Hearing

Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented by following safe listening practices. 

  • Wear hearing protection every time you are exposed to loud sounds. 
  • ​Limit the time you spend engaged in noisy activities, if you can. 
  • ​Keep the volume down when listening with headphones, earphones, or in-ear monitors and keep the volume down over personal speaker systems or monitoring speakers. 
  • Monitor your listening levels and noise exposure.
  • Listen to your body's early warning signs: tinnitus and temporary loss of hearing after exposure are your body's way of telling you it was too loud and ear injury occurred. Repeated exposure can lead to permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.  
  • Give your ears a break if you have been exposed to loud sounds, give your ears time to rest in quiet. You can do this during exposure by stepping away to a quiet area for awhile.
  • Find an audiologist you like and trust and get your hearing tested regularly or anytime you suspect a change in hearing. 


monitor your exposure

How loud sounds effect your hearing

  • Know your risk. 
    • ​Your risk of hearing damage from loud sounds is effected by: how loud the sound is; how long you are exposed to loud sounds, how often you are exposed to loud sounds; and individual risk factors of susceptibility.
  • Wear hearing protection.
    • Earplugs and earmuffs are portable, cost effective, and offer excellent hearing protection. Have them ready anytime you know you'll be in a noisy setting. There are many custom-fit earplug styles available and many are low-profile and discrete. Filtered earplug options are also available that maintain the fidelity of the sound, while lowering the exposure level. 
    • The advice to wear hearing protection goes for just about everyone, from the youngest of children to older adults, from those with excellent hearing who want to maintain it, to those who already have hearing loss and don't want to make it worse. Protecting yourself from noise induced hearing loss should begin in childhood, but it's never too late to start protecting our hearing.
    • Hearing protection cannot give you back what you may have already lost, but it can prevent future and accumulative damage. As a society, everyone needs to prioritize hearing protection.
  • Reduce exposure.
    • Take steps to reduce your exposure to noisy settings when you can, for example, lower the volume on personal listening devices.
  • Get your hearing tested.
    • See an audiologist for a hearing evaluation. A recent government report stated that 1 in 4 U.S. adults who report perceived excellent to good hearing actually already have hearing damage. Many adults do not routinely get their hearing checked, and even those who are concerned they may have hearing loss often delay treatment for years.1

Safe Listening

Safe listening refers to specific listening behaviors that do not put your hearing at risk. 

Loud sounds and noises can damage your hearing.

Your risk of hearing damage is effected by:

  • how loud the sound is
  • how long you are exposed to the loud sound
  • how often you are exposed to loud sounds 
  • individual risk factors of susceptibility 

Loud sound exposure

Sound levels are measured in decibels (dB). The higher the decibel level, the louder the sound.

Watch this video to learn more about how loud sounds affect your hearing (specifically from 3:20 minutes in to about 17:30). 

Noise-induced hearing loss typically affects the perception of high-pitched sounds leading to difficulty understanding speech. A common complaint is: "I can hear, I just can't understand what people are saying. 

Noisy settings are commonplace in today's society, including in St. Louis. Many restaurants are specifically designed to elevate noise levels to make establishments feel more energetic. Similarly, some sports stadiums have been built with sound elevation in mind, thought to improve the fan experience and serve as a home-team advantage. Fitness classes, bars, clubs, concerts, street noise, construction noise, workplace noise, and many other daily environments all make modern society a collectively loud place.

Did you know?

Nearly 50% of people aged 12-35 are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal listening audio devices.​2

Parents should take an active role in monitoring their children's exposure to loud sound and in educating their children about safe listening.

Did you know?

Nearly 50% of people aged 12-35 are at risk for hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to loud sounds from activities such as going to music venues and clubs and from use of personal listening devices.​2

Protect your ear structures from injury: 

  • Wear a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle, and when participating in contact sports. 
  • Wear a seat belt at all times when in a moving vehicle. 
  • Don't take unnecessary risks, like standing on the top rung of a ladder. 
  • Don't put anything in your ears that isn't intended to be in your ear (for example don't scratch your ear with a safety pen and don't use cotton swabs in your ears).
  • Wear earplugs when participating in water activities. 
  • Seek medical attention if you suspect you have an ear infection. ​2

Sensory cells in the inner ear play a vital role in our hearing. When the sensory cells are exposed to loud sounds, they become fatigued over time. Initially, you could experience temporary symptoms like tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, or other noises in the ear) and a loss of hearing that improves once the sound exposure has stopped and the sensory cells have had time to recover. However, when exposure is particularly loud, frequent, or prolonged, the sensory cells can no longer recover and they become permanently damaged, which causes irreversible, noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, and/or other auditory disorders. Noise-induced hearing loss can also happen immediately when exposed to a sudden burst of loud sound, such as a gun shot or explosion.2

Safe listening

How long and at what volume can you listen before your ears are at risk?

Safe listening for 1 week based on WHO recommendations.

a Noisy world

Did you know?

Loud noise doesn't just damage your hearing. Loud sounds can:

  • Make you more tired. 
  • Make it hard to pay attention-making you less productive.
  • Make you less aware of warning signals and audible alerts like emergency vehicles. 
  • Cause other health problems like high blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased stress and anxiety, upset stomach, problems sleeping.2