safe noise levels

Taking Care Of Your Hearing- Safe Noise Levels

Healthy hearing is something we often take for granted until it’s gone. In this article we’ll look at the causes and symptoms of hearing loss, as well as how to ensure you’re listening to safe noise levels to minimise damage to your ears. We then cover some other common ear problems and how you can manage them.

Causes and Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss may come on gradually or suddenly. If you notice yourself straining to hear, listening to music and the TV with the volume louder than usual, or asking people to repeat themselves, it’s worthwhile getting it checked out because you may have some degree of hearing loss.

Some degree of hearing loss commonly occurs gradually in both ears as we age, but it can also be caused by other factors.

  • Sudden deafness in one of your ears should be treated as a medical emergency. It could be caused by an ear infection, wax buildup, or a burst eardrum, or a syndrome known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL).
  • Sudden deafness in both ears is also a medical emergency. It may be caused by damage done by an extremely loud noise, or be a side effect of some medications.
  • Gradual deafness in one ear can be the result of an obstruction building up inside the ear and blocking sound from entering. Examples include earwax, skin cells, a bony growth or fluid buildup.
  • Gradual deafness in both ears happens over time to most of us as we age. It can also be caused by repeated exposure to unsafe noise levels.

Protecting your ears- Safe noise levels

According to the Health and Safety Executivenoise that’s above 105 decibels (a little quieter than a car horn) can cause hearing loss if listened to for longer than 15 minutes weekly. Longer exposure to quieter noise (80-90dB) can also cause hearing loss if you experience it regularly, and employers must provide hearing protection for exposure above 85dB. This level of noise may include:

  • Motorbikes (100dB)
  • Action scenes at the movies (100dB)
  • Live music (120dB)
  • Ambulance sirens (120dB)

As a rule of thumb, any noise that leaves your ears ringing or temporarily deaf is too loud and should be avoided where possible. It’s best to have a break from loud noise for at least 16 hours after experiencing this, or you risk permanent hearing loss.

To ensure safe noise levels and prevent hearing loss you can follow a few straightforward tips. Use earplugs or ear protectors where possible to protect your ears from loud noise such as at concerts. With personal music players, follow the 60:60 rule: listen to music at 60% of maximum volume, for around an hour daily at maximum.

Symptoms and treatment of common ear problems

Burst (perforated) eardrum

Symptoms of a burst eardrum include sudden pain that subsides quickly, hearing loss, ringing in your ears, vertigo, or discharge from the ear (this can be clear, pus-filled, or bloody).

You should see a doctor as soon as possible after experiencing these symptoms, as complications can include hearing loss, infection (otitis medina) or cysts developing in the middle ear.

Earwax buildup

Earwax buildup may cause temporary hearing loss. It can usually be easily dealt with using eardrops available over the counter from a pharmacy. The next step is to make a GP appointment to look into other treatments like having your ears washed out.


Tinnitus is described as hearing a persistent ringing, buzzing or whistling sound in the ears. It should be seen by a GP, especially if it’s affecting your quality of life. Tinnitus is often caused by a treatable underlying condition such as earwax buildup or infection, or temporary exposure to unsafe noise levels, but your GP can also refer you to specialist if these are ruled out.

Can my GP help?


Your GP will be best placed to offer advice on any hearing loss. If you suddenly lose hearing in one or both ears, treat it as a medical emergency and call NHS 111 for advice and care.