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Look after your hearing

It's never too early to start looking after your hearing. Start by checking your hearing today with our easy online hearing check. It only takes a few minutes, and it will help you find out what action you can take for your hearing.

We have information to help you find out if your hearing is at risk, and what to do to protect your hearing for the future. You may also be worried about losing your hearing, or waiting for a hearing test. We have information on what to expect from your GP and audiologist, and what will happen at a private hearing aid dispenser.

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Music and your hearing

Loud music at clubs, gigs and festivals, and through personal music players, can cause damage to your hearing. This could mean permanent tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or premature hearing loss. 90% have experienced some ringing in their ears after listening to loud music, a warning sign that they may be damaging their hearing.

The risk of damage is determined by how loud the music is, how long you are exposed to it and individual susceptibility to noise. But don't worry, you can take steps now to protect your hearing for the future.

How loud is too loud?

Loudness of a sound is measured in decibels (dB). Experts agree that exposure to noise at or above 85 dB(A) can damage hearing.

Some examples of average decibel levels of common noises:

  • 20 dB (A) A quiet room at night
  • 60 dB (A) Ordinary spoken conversation
  • 70 dB (A) City street
  • 80 dB (A) DANGER LEVEL
  • 100 dB (A) Pneumatic drill
  • 100 dB (A) Maximum volume on some mp3 players
  • 110 dB (A) Night club
  • 115 dB (A) Rock concert
  • 120 dB (A) Aeroplane taking off

Without sound measuring equipment, it can be difficult to know how loud the sound really is. As a rule of thumb, if you have to raise your voice to speak to someone two metres away, the noise is loud enough to damage your hearing and you should take steps to protect yourself. If the sound ever hurts your ears, leave immediately.

How long can I listen to music for?

It depends on how loud the music is. Decibels work as ratios so the louder the volume, the less time you can listen to it without damaging your hearing. For every 3dB(A) increase in volume, the amount of time is halved before hearing damage occurs.

If a nightclub has music playing at 100dB(A), it is only possible to listen to it for 10-15 minutes before the exposure becomes damaging.

Won't my ears get use to loud music?

In short, no. Loud music affects everyone's hearing. Some people may be more susceptible to damage than others but it is only possible to know your susceptibility once you have damaged your hearing. So it is important to take steps to prevent any damage from occurring.

What might happen if I damage my hearing?

If you have been exposed to loud music, you may experience ringing in your ears. This is usually temporary and tends to go after 24 hours at most.

However, continued exposure to loud music can lead to the ringing, or tinnitus, to become permanent. This has been known to affect people's lives, their ability to sleep and concentrate.

You may also experience premature hearing loss. While you may not notice this straight away, it could bring on hearing loss as a result of age much quicker.

If you are worried that you may have damaged your hearing, or have tinnitus or hearing loss, speak to our Information Line.

With music at nightclubs and live gigs reaching dangerous levels for your hearing, it is important to take steps to prevent the damage occurring.

The best way to protect your hearing is to use earplugs that are designed for listening to music. These do not muffle the sound but just reduce the volume. There are lots of different earplugs available, ranging from the inexpensive to the custom-made. But for the price of a CD, you can pick up some good quality earplugs that will adequately protect your hearing.

Other tips:

  • Don’t get too close to the speakers – the closer you are, the more noise reaching your ears.
  • Take breaks – if there is a chill out area at the club, use it

Small children have tiny ears that can be more sensitive than adult ears to certain high-pitched sounds. Often noise is made up of lots of different pitches of sound, so it is difficult to say when a small child is more at risk. Therefore, it is important to look after your child’s hearing whatever age they are.

If your child is crying or complaining when they are around loud noise, it is probably because it is hurting their ears.

Their ears are still growing, so earplugs are not always suitable for young children. The best way to protect your child’s hearing is by using ear defenders that are designed for children. These can be picked up at the Action on Hearing Loss shop and other retailers.

Some mp3 players can reach volumes of 100dB(A). This is well above the level where the noise is damaging to your hearing. We all love listening to our music while walking down the street, on the bus or when concentrating on some work. But if its loud and you are listening for a long time, you run the risk of permanent damage.

It is important to have some good quality earphones or headphones. Many personal music players have free earphones as standard. But these can be poor quality, leaking lots of sound and letting in background noise. As a result, you need to turn it up just to hear your favourite track.

Earphones and headphones that are sound-isolating or noise-cancelling block out background noise, so that you don't need to turn it up so loud. These don't need to be expensive and can be picked up at most music stores. But make sure you don't still have the volume on full – you will still be causing some serious damage!

Other tips:
• Take regular breaks – at least five minutes every hour to give your ears a rest
• If your personal music player has a ‘volume limiter’, use it – this means you will not be able to turn the music up without realising.
• If you can turn it down a notch, it will make a big difference to how long you can listen to the music

In April 2008, the Noise at Work Regulations came into force for the music and entertainment sector in the UK. The regulations mean that employers have a legal duty to protect their staff from the potentially harmful effects of loud music.

The regulations apply to any workplace where there is live or recorded music. This includes music played in a restaurant, bar, pub, nightclub; or music played alongside live dramatic or dance performance. The regulations apply to all staff – this means everyone from musicians and DJs, to bar and security staff.
We know that music is at the heart of this industry, and these regulations are not trying to change that. There are lots of simple and straightforward ways to protect against hearing damage, without compromising on the quality of the venue, or the music.

For more information on the regulations, and how they affect you, see the HSE website(external link, opens in new window).

Clubs, gigs and festivals

There is currently no legislation directly protecting music lovers from the danger that loud music poses to their hearing. It is extremely important that you take responsibility for your own ears and always wear earplugs.

There is some legislation that affects how loud music can be:
• Noise at work Control of Noise at Work regulations 2005 - this makes it the responsibility of the employer to protect their staff’s hearing if they are exposed to loud noise, such as music in a bar.
• Environmental noise regulations
• Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

MP3 players

In 2009, Action on Hearing Loss successfully lobbied the European Commission to bring in new standards for personal music players. These will see volume limited to 85 dB(A) and overall exposure limited to 40 hours/week. Users can choose to override these settings, but will be warned about the risks of hearing damage if they do. Personal music player manufacturers will also be required to include clear on-pack warnings and hearing damage information in product literature, so that music fans know when they’ve reached a damaging volume and can take action to protect their hearing.

There are lots of different earplugs available that will be suitable for clubbers, festival-goers, DJs or band members. They come in different forms and prices.

Below are a few suppliers where you can get earplugs and there are many more out there.

The Action on Hearing Loss Shop offers a range of hearing protection earplugs for adults and children. For lovers of live music, MusicSafe filters or Alpine Party plugs provide comfortable protection that filter out loud noises but also enable the listener to hear ambient sounds, such as voices. For children, lightweight ear defenders are becoming more and more popular, providing youngsters with comfortable protection. Action on Hearing Loss also sell earplugs for sleeping, travelling and swimming.

Sensorcom(external link, opens in new window) sell attenuating earplugs (which are earplugs that filter sound, rather than block it out), a range of custom-made musicians' attenuating earplugs and in-ear monitoring systems. Action on Hearing Loss is part of Sensorcom's affiliate scheme, which means we make money from every click-through from this site.


ACS(external link, opens in new window) provides viable hearing protection and communication products that are designed to help people enjoy sound safely. The ACS background in helping musicians led it to develop the world's first commercially available soft silicone in-ear monitor. ACS products are now widely recognised by music industry leaders, corporate client and government bodies alike for its excellent sound quality, comfort, reliability and protective capabilities.


Edz Kidz Ear Defenders(external link, opens in new winow), based in Bideford, Devon, provides specially designed ear defenders to protect children's hearing from any loud noises. They are lightweight, compact and easy to use, and available in a range of different colours.


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