Whether the music was blasting from your headphones in the car or from the speakers in your bedroom, your mom’s reaction was always the same: “Turn it down! You’re going to lose your hearing if you keep doing that.”
So was she right?
All those hours jamming to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album might not have been the gift to your ears that you thought it was. Just as mom admonished, listening to loud music really can take a toll on your hearing. (Somewhere in the distance, your mom is saying “I told you so.”)
Here’s why: Your ear has three part, known as the outer, middle, and inner ear. In the middle ear, you have small bones that pick up sound vibrations and transfer them to the inner ear, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. In the inner ear, tons of nerve endings help the brain recognize and interpret sounds. That’s what helps you distinguish between a barking dog, a crying baby, or, say, your mom yelling at you to turn down the music.
The inner ear’s nerve endings are very sensitive, and any sound over 85 decibels (dB) can damage them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most rock concerts tend to be around 115 dB, and a typical MP3 player at max volume is around 105 dB. Yikes.
But don’t point all the fingers toward music: Lawnmowers, chainsaws, construction equipment, sirens, fireworks, trains, and motorcycles all exceed 85 dB and have the potential to damage hearing. An occasional encounter with loud noises is unavoidable, but repeated exposure can kill those sensitive nerve endings and lead to hearing loss over time. Around 24 percent of U.S. adults show evidence of noise-induced hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
So what can you do about it? Well, just as your mom probably told you, you should wear earplugs at concerts, loud festivals, or while mowing the lawn or using other noisy machinery. Avoid standing right next to speakers (yeah, that might mean standing a little farther from the stage—sorry).
Oh, and turn down the volume. You may love jogging along with Madonna on your favorite 80s playlist, but listening at a lower volume ensures that you’ll get to keep belting out “Material Girl” for decades to come.