Hearing Health Blog

Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Individuals who work in loud surroundings 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, leisure-related noise exposure can be damaging, also. What kind of exposure are we talking about? Loud noise heard through headphones, whether it’s music, gaming, streaming video, or even an audiobook with the volume turned up.

You might not believe your smartphone or tablet can get that loud. But these devices can reach sustained volumes of over 105 dB, which is close to the ordinary human pain threshold. Your ears will literally start to hurt at this volume. So what’s the plan to safeguard against this sort of noise-related loss of hearing?

It’s significant here to think about the volume. 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 known as the 60/60 rule.

Create a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

Be sure, if you’re using hearing aids, you don’t try to drown out other noises by cranking your streaming music up too high. And there are better ways to listen to music so ask us about that also. Hearing aids aren’t designed to make music clearer like they do with voices so if you’re really into music, you might have noticed this. We may be able to change the configuration to reduce noise and feedback while maximizing some frequency to enhance the quality of sound while listening to music.

What Are The Right Headphones For You?

If you don’t own hearing aids, there are many options for buying headphones. It might be a matter of personal choice, but there are some things you will want to think about there too.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

While the foam-covered speakers that came with your old Walkman are generally no longer used, over-the-ear headphones have had a resurgence. Often surprisingly expensive, they feature a large variety of color options and celebrity endorsements, and of course, superior sound quality. And unlike those little foam pads, these cover the entire ear, limiting outside noises.

Main-stream wisdom is that these are less dangerous than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further from your eardrum. But because the speakers are bigger they are usually capable of much louder volume. Noise cancellation can be a good thing as long as you’re not losing needed sounds such as an oncoming automobile. But on the upside, you won’t need to compete with outside sound so you can enjoy your music at lower volumes.


The standard earbuds are well known for poor quality of sound, but because they come with your phone lots of people still use them. Moreover, with newer devices that no longer have a headphone jack, sticking with Apple’s earbuds can simply be easier.

The drawback, besides the poor sound quality, is that basic earbuds can’t cancel outside sounds, so you’re more likely to crank up the volume. It’s generally believed that placing earbuds so close to your eardrum is the main problem but it’s really the volume.

Noise Blocking Earbuds

Many people prefer earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfortable than standard earbuds and better at blocking outside noises. 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 types of earbuds have the same downsides 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). And if you have hearing aids, obviously these won’t work for you.

Several pairs may need to be tested before you find headphones that are correct for you. Depending on what you regularly use them for talking on the phone, say, versus listening to music, you’ll have different acoustic expectations. Enjoying your music at a healthy volume and finding headphones that help you do that is the key.

Don’t Cut Corners When Dealing With Your Hearing

How can you be sure it’s safe? If you use a smartphone, you can get an app for that, you can download the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s free Sound Level Meter app. There are different apps out there, but studies has discovered that the reliability of these other apps is hit-and-miss (in addition, for whatever reason, Android-based apps have been shown less reliable). That prompted NIOSH to create their own app. You can measure outside noise using the app, but it’s also possible to measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, in other words, the actual volume of what’s going to your ears. You have to do a little work, but taking these types of protective steps can help protect your ears.

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