The Challenge

For millions of years our hearing has enabled us to assess our environment, communicate and stay safe.

About 150 years ago the loudspeaker was invented. We started to listen to reproduced sound. In the last 15 years there has been a dramatic increase in smartphones and digital media, most of which is best consumed wearing headphones. Unfortunately, evolution has not caught up. Our ears are like those our ancestors had millions of years ago and they are not designed to listen to four or five hours of electronic dance music every day.

None of us want to stop you using headphones. But until evolution catches up we need to adapt to this recent increase in sound dose. And to do that, we need to be aware of what harmful exposure looks like, so we can make informed decisions about it and protect our hearing.

The science bit
Human beings have about 15,000 auditory hair cells in each ear at birth. You don’t get any more and when they are gone they are gone – and so is your hearing. Regular, repeated exposure to loud sound can cause irreparable damage to the hair cells within our ears. This damage can take a long time to show up.

So, what is a sound dose? A sound dose takes into account how long you listen for, how loud you listen and the energy content of what you listen to.

For example; speech is low energy content. You can listen for a long period at a high volume without experiencing a very high sound dose.

But, electronic dance music has a high energy content so will give you a large sound dose in a shorter period.

As a result of high profile campaigns the majority of headphone users are now aware of the risks. Yet, few of them take action. Some even defeat the warning volume level set on devices in order to drown out background noise such as on trains. Long term, this will damage your hearing for good.

5 ways to protect your Hearing

With the World Health Organisation (WHO Report ) suggesting that more than 1 billion of us are at risk of permanent hearing loss here are 5 ways you can protect your hearing.


Firstly, test your hearing. Try the easy, free app, hearWHO (Link to hearWHO app). Keep a record of your score and retest yourself every six months or so. If you are worried about your hearing see your doctor.


Try to avoid exposure to loud sounds/long periods of exposure. Loud sounds are common at live events, music and motorsport, when shooting, using power tools, lawn mowers and riding motorcycles. If you are attending, taking part or using noisy equipment make sure you wear hearing protection.


A common source of large sound doses is from using headphones. Consider timing how long you are using your headphones are and check out your listening levels. It may help you to download a hearing safeguarding app, which will total the time and level for you, and let you know when you’re overdoing it.


Upgrade your ear buds to good quality ‘over-ear’ headphones which will reduce the background noise so you can listen at a lower level. For the noisy public transport consider buying active noise cancelling headphones.


When you go to live music events take hearing protection with you and use it when the support act is on to give your ears a break and leave them fresh for the main attraction.