Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

People who work in loud settings such as construction sites or at heavy metal concerts are not the only ones impacted by noise related hearing loss. It doesn’t even have to be work-related, recreation-related noise exposure can be harmful, too. What type of exposure are we talking about? Music, gaming, streaming video or anything that you would listen to through headphones or earbuds.

You may not realize your smartphone or tablet can go that loud. The average pain threshold for human hearing is close to 150 db which is well within the range of these devices. This is the volume at which noise begins to literally cause pain in your ears. So what’s the solution for protecting your hearing against volume related damage.

The volume level here is significant. Listen with the volume at or below 60% for no more than 60 minutes each session (how long you listen for also matters), this is called the 60/60 rule.

Create a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

If you wear hearing aids, you’re likely streaming your device directly to your hearing aids, so be certain the volume is not too high or that you’re not trying to drown out other sounds with your music. And there are better ways to listen to music so consult us about that also. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you might have noticed that most hearing aids are developed to enhance the quality of voices…not necessarily music. We may be able to make adjustments to lessen noise and feedback while increasing some frequency to enhance the quality of sound when listening to music.

Selecting Headphones

If you don’t use hearing aids, there are a lot of options for purchasing headphones. There are a few things to think about, though it’s mostly a matter of personal choice.

Headphones That go Over The Ears

Over the ear headphones are becoming popular again but you probably won’t find the old foam covered speakers that once came with a walkman. They have a lot of options in color and style, are frequently endorsed by celebrities, and can be surprisingly pricey. And these headphones go over the whole ear limiting out noise, unlike those old foam ones.

Main-stream wisdom is that these are safer than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further from your eardrum. But because the speakers are bigger they are commonly capable of much louder sound level. Additionally, noise-canceling may help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other circumstances, it can silence sounds you need to hear (such as a honking car). With that being said, because they block out outside sound, you can often decrease the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not so loud that it will cause damage to your hearing.


The normal earbuds are widely recognized for poor quality of sound, but because they come with your phone a lot of people still use them. Especially, with newer Apple phones, it’s just easier to use the earbuds which came with the device because it most likely doesn’t have a headphone jack.

Earbuds also don’t cancel out sound so the drawback is, you tend to crank up the volume. Again, though it’s often said that earbuds are problematic because you stick them into your ear so their speakers are extremely close to your eardrum, volume is the biggest problem.

Earbuds That Block External Noise

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

You may need to try out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that are what you are looking for. Your expectations, acoustically, will differ dependant on what kind of usage you usually give them. Listening to your tunes at a healthy volume and coming across headphones that help you do that is the key.

How to Make Sure Your Hearing is Safeguarded

Is it Safe, How Can I be Sure? There’s an app for that…If you have 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 accuracy of these other apps is spotty (in addition, for unknown reasons, Android-based apps have been shown less reliable). That motivated NIOSH to create their own app. The app allows you to measure outside noises, but you can also measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, this means, the actual volume of what’s being sent to your ears. It’s a little bit of work, but taking these kinds of protective measures can help protect your hearing.

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