HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Could we be damaging our ears when we go to lunch?

Or when we hit the gym?

If sometimes life in the Rio Grande Valley seems to be getting a bit loud, you might be willing to listen to the results of a recent study that cautions that as many as 1 billion young people might be at risk of hearing loss.

The study, “Prevalence and global estimates of unsafe listening practices in adolescents and young adults: a systematic review and metanalysis,” was published by the science journal BMJ Global Health. The researchers estimated that 670 million to 1 billion people between the ages of 12-34 years could be at risk of hearing loss.

“There is an urgent need to [prioritize] policy focused on safe listening,” the study concluded.

In the Rio Grande Valley

So what decibel levels could we be exposed to when doing everyday activities in the Valley, whether listening to music or going out and about?

To look for answers, ValleyCentral downloaded the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Sound Level Meter app to record readings in various spots throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

These were a few of our findings:


Like many people, members of the ValleyCentral team own AirPods or other forms of earphones. After starting a song and turning the volume all the way up on an iPhone, the volume of the AirPods showed a reading of 92 dB. How does this stack up to the sounds that people hear in their everyday life?

Art Exhibit

ValleyCentral stopped at a crowded art exhibit in McAllen. The immersive exhibit featured an integration of ambient music to enhance the user’s experience. The music provided a mesmerizing element, but was it too loud? The sound level meter recorded measurements up to 85.2 dBA.

Local Restaurant

During a quick lunch break at a restaurant in Harlingen, sound level readings reached 83.2 dBA.

Working Out

On a late afternoon, ValleyCentral walked into a local Brownsville gym. A mix of loud pop music, weights clanking and chatter among gymgoers filled the gym. The reading showing a measurement of 72 dBA, only two decibels over the recommended amount.

The Office

Even the newsroom had it’s louder moments, with sounds reaching 69 dBA near crunch time.

How loud is too loud?

According to the National Institutes of Health, loud sounds can cause permanent damage to one’s ability to hear by damaging cells within the cochlea. A person may also develop tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in one’s ears, due to exposure to loud noises.

Sounds at, or below, 70 A-weighted decibels are safe, the NIH stated. However, sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing loss.

The NIH included a list of common sounds and their decibel readings:

  • Normal conversation: 60-70 dBA
  • Lawnmowers: 80 to 100 dBA
  • Sports events: 94 to 110 dBA
  • Sirens from emergency vehicles: 110 to 129 dBA
  • Fireworks: 140 to 160 dBA

As a way to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, the CDC recommends identifying sources of loud noises and turning down the volume of music systems. Those with concerns of hearing loss are urged to seek evaluation by an audiologist.