How Loud is Too Loud? One Expert Celebrates Speech and Hearing Month

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If a sound is dangerously loud, such as fireworks, gunshots, or full volume radios these sounds can begin causing hearing damage within several minutes.

May is Speech and Hearing month.  As an Audiologist, I often get asked about children’s hearing. As a mother and a clinician, I know the importance and often urgency behind such questions.

Some of the most common inquiries I receive: how loud is too loud for my child’s headphones? Can my child incur hearing damage from listening to loud music in our car?  Some of my kid’s toys are loud. How do I know if they are too loud? The good news: Monitoring for noise induced hearing loss and protection from loud sounds is one of the easiest things you can do to protect you and your child’s hearing. Protection and prevention is essential since the reality is, damage from noise can cause unrepairable changes to hearing.

So, how loud is too loud? 

If you have to raise your voice to hear someone close to you, then the surrounding sounds are possibly in a range that could cause some hearing damage over time. If a sound is dangerously loud, such as fireworks, gunshots, or full volume radios these sounds can begin causing hearing damage within several minutes. Other sounds that are uncomfortably loud can take longer but can still cause some hearing damage as well, such as live concerts, lawn mowers, hair dryers, power tools, and sporting events. These are all sounds that you and your child want to stay clear of for an extended amount of time. 

When it comes to our children, we have to look out for them.  Wearing earmuffs, walking away from the noise and being more mindful of adjustable volume levels on appliances can all be helpful. However, unsuspecting some items, like toys, can also produce high intensity levels of sound that may damage a child’s hearing. Remember that children hold toys closer to them, so if we feel that something is too loud it just might be.  There are a few simple things to look for when you are buying toys that play sounds:

1)    Screen your toys: Hold the toy very closely to your face and close your eyes. If you startle, it is likely too loud.

2)    Soften the volume: Remove the batteries, buy toys with volume controls, or (with older kids) you could use some tape to cover the speaker to reduce the volume output.

3)    Take a reading: Consider using a sound level meter application to measure the noise on your smart phone. A quick reading will reveal if the noise is too loud.  You don’t want a noise level to exceed 80 decibels.

4)    Sleuth out suspicious items: Some loud toys are reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission or to Sight and Hearing Association’s (SHA) website at

The bottom line: We all need to take care of our hearing and monitor for signs of hearing loss (ringing in the ears, muffled speech, needing repetition, increased volume of television or radio) and if you have concerns, speak to your primary health provider or your child’s pediatrician about seeing an Audiologist. 

An Audiologist can conduct a hearing evaluation in a sound booth to determine your level of hearing. For pediatric patients, we test children by playing listening games in a sound booth while they are wearing headphones. These listening games often ask kids to point to pictures, put together puzzles, play with blocks, among other modifications to determine their hearing level.  Audiologists also use objective measures as well to determine how other parts of the ear are functioning without having to rely on patient participation, since not all children are old enough to play the listening games.  After compiling all information appropriate recommendations are discussed. 

By Mandy Weinzierl, AuD, CCC-A
Doctor of Audiology l Diagnostic Audiology Team Lead
Audiology and Speech Language Pathology
Indiana University Health

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