Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Noise-related loss of hearing doesn’t only affect individuals who work in loud settings, like construction workers or heavy metal roadies. Recreation associated noise exposure can be just as dangerous as work related noise exposure. The most common type? Music, gaming, streaming video or anything that you would listen to through headphones or earbuds.

You may be surprised to discover that a mobile device can get that loud. The typical pain threshold for human hearing is around 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 solution for protecting your ears against volume related injury.

It’s relevant here to consider the volume. A quick shorthand that’s widely recommended is the 60/60 rule: Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for 60 minutes or less at a stretch (because how long you listen for matters, too).

Make a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

If you wear hearing aids, you’re likely streaming your device right to your hearing aids, so make sure the volume is not too loud 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 may have recognized that most hearing aids are created to improve the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. We might be able to make adjustments to lessen noise and feedback while maximizing some frequency ranges to better the quality of sound when listening to music.

Selecting Headphones

If you don’t use hearing aids, there are many options for purchasing headphones. There are a few things to think about, although 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 see the old foam covered ear pieces that used to come with a walkman. They have lots of options in style and color, are frequently endorsed by celebrities, and can be surprisingly pricey. And these headphones go over the entire ear stopping unwanted sound, unlike those old foam ones.

Conventional perception is that these are safer than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further away from your eardrum. But because the speakers are bigger they are often capable of much louder volume. Also, noise-canceling will probably help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other scenarios, it can block sounds you should hear (such as a car honking). With that being said, because they cancel out outside noise, you can normally lower the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not loud enough to harm your ears.


The standard earbuds are widely known for inferior quality of sound, but because they come with your phone many people still use them. Plus, with newer models that don’t have a headphone jack, sticking with Apple’s earbuds can just be easier.

Earbuds also don’t cancel out sound so the downside is, you tend to crank up the volume. It’s generally believed that inserting earbuds so close to your eardrum is the primary issue but it’s really the volume.

Earbuds That Block Outside Sound

More comfortable than standard earbuds, models that have a round rubber tip are the choice of many people because they help obstruct outside sound. A seal that stops outside sound from entering is formed by the rubber tip which conforms to the shape of the ear. Not to sound like a broken record, but these have the same disadvantages as the other two (it’s all about the volume), as well as carrying the same caution as over-the-ear headphones (they can block out warning sounds). Obviously, these won’t work for you if you wear hearing aids.

You may need to test out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that are what you are looking for. Depending on what you regularly use them for talking on the phone, say, versus listening to music, you’ll have different acoustic requirements. The significant thing is to find headphones that make it comfortable for you to enjoy at a safe and secure volume.

Don’t Cut Corners When it Comes to Your Hearing

How can you be certain it’s safe? There’s an app for that…If you have a smartphone, you can download the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s free Sound Level Meter app. You can get different apps, but studies has found that the accuracy of these other apps is hit-and-miss (in addition, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have proven to be less accurate). That motivated NIOSH to create their own app. The app enables you to measure external noises, but you can also measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, this means, the true volume of what’s going to your ears. It’s a little bit of work, but putting in place these kinds of protective steps can help safeguard your ears.

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