Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Individuals who work in loud settings like construction sites or at heavy metal concerts are not the only people affected by noise related loss of hearing. It doesn’t even have to be work-related, recreation-related noise exposure can be harmful, too. The most prevalent type? Loud noise heard through headphones, whether it’s gaming, streaming video, music, or even an audiobook with the volume turned up.

You might be surprised to learn that a mobile device can go that loud. The typical pain threshold for human hearing is about 150 db which is in the range of these devices. Your ears will actually start to feel pain at this volume. So what’s the answer for safeguarding your hearing against volume related injury.

It’s relevant here to consider the volume. An easy shorthand that’s widely recommended is the 60/60 rule: Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for no more than 60 minutes at a stretch (because the length of sound exposure matters, too).

Create a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

If you have hearing aids, you’re more than likely streaming your device directly to your hearing aids, so be sure the volume is not too high or that you’re not attempting to drown out other noises with your music. And there are more appropriate ways to listen to music so ask us about that also. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you might have noticed that most hearing aids are created to enhance the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. While listening to music, we can probably make some adjustments to help improve the quality of sound and lessen the feedback.

Picking out Headphones

When shopping for headphones there are many options, particularly if you have hearing aids. There are a few things to think about, though it’s mostly a matter of personal preference.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

Over the ear headphones are becoming popular again but you probably won’t find the old foam covered ear pieces that used to come with a walkman. They have lots of options in color and style, are usually endorsed by celebrities, and can be surprisingly expensive. And unlike those little foam pads, these go over the whole ear, stopping outside noises.

Conventional wisdom is that these are safer than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further from your eardrum. But the truth is they’re usually capable of much louder volume than their smaller kin, the speakers are much larger. Additionally, noise-canceling may help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other scenarios, it can silence sounds you need to hear (such as a honking car). But on the positive side, you won’t have to compete with outside sound so you can enjoy your music at lower volumes.


The standard earbuds are widely recognized for poor quality of sound, but because they come along with your phone many people still use them. Plus, with newer versions that lack a headphone jack, staying with Apple’s earbuds can just be easier.

The drawback, in addition to the inferior sound quality, is that basic earbuds don’t block outside sounds, so that it’s more likely that you will pump up the sound level. It’s generally assumed that sticking earbuds so close to your eardrum is the main concern but it’s actually the volume.

Earbuds That Block Outside Noise

More comfortable than standard earbuds, models with a round rubber tip are the choice of many because they help obstruct outside sound. The rubber molds to the shape of your ear, creating a seal that blocks other noises from getting in. But these earbuds can also block out sounds you need to hear and volume is still the main problem. Needless to say, these won’t work for you if you have hearing aids.

A number of pairs may have to be tested before you find headphones that are what you are looking for. Depending on what you regularly use them for say talking on the phone, as opposed to listening to music, you’ll have different acoustic expectations. The significant thing is to find headphones that make it comfortable for you to enjoy at a safe and secure volume.

How to Make Sure Your Hearing is Safeguarded

Is it Safe, How Can I be certain? There’s an app for that…If you use a smartphone, you can get the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s free Sound Level Meter app. You can get other apps, but studies has found that the dependability of these other apps is spotty (in addition, for whatever reason, Android-based apps have proven to be less precise). That motivated NIOSH to create an app of their own. You can measure external noise using the app, but you can also measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, so you will learn exactly how much volume your ears are subjected to. It’s a little bit of work, but putting in place these types of protective steps can help safeguard your ears.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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