Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Individuals who work in loud settings such as construction sites or at heavy metal concerts are not the only ones affected by noise related loss of hearing. It doesn’t even have to be work-related, recreation-related noise exposure can be harmful, also. What kind of exposure are we discussing? Loud sounds heard through headphones, whether it’s gaming, streaming video, music, or even an audiobook with the volume turned up.

You might not realize your smartphone or tablet can go that loud. But these devices can achieve continuous volumes of over 105 dB, which is near the normal human threshold for pain. Your ears will actually start to feel pain at this volume. So what’s the answer for protecting your ears against volume related damage.

It’s important here to consider the volume. A simple shorthand that’s widely recommended is the 60/60 rule: Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for 60 minutes or less in a single session (because the length of sound exposure matters, too).

Make a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

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

How to Pick The Best Headphones

If you don’t own hearing aids, there are many options for getting headphones. There are some things to think about, even though it’s largely a matter of personal choice.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

Over the ear headphones are becoming popular again but you probably won’t see the old foam covered speakers that used to come with a walkman. Often shockingly pricey, they provide lots of color choices and celebrity endorsements, and yes, superior sound quality. And these headphones cover 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 the truth is they’re often capable of much louder sound than their smaller kin, the speakers are a lot bigger. Also, noise-canceling might help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other scenarios, it can silence sounds you need to hear (like a honking car). Having said that, because they block out outside noise, you can normally lower 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 that come with devices like iPhones are known for their inferior quality of sound, although a lot of people still use them because hey, they came with the phone. Particularly, with newer Apple devices, it’s just easier to use the earbuds that came with the device because it probably won’t have a headphone jack.

Earbuds also don’t cancel out noise so the downside is, you have a tendency to turn up the sound level. It’s commonly assumed that placing earbuds so close to your eardrum is the primary issue but it’s really the volume.

Noise Canceling Earbuds

Many people opt for earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfy than traditional earbuds and better at stopping outside noises. A seal that stops outside noise from getting in is formed by the rubber tip which molds to the shape of the ear. Not to sound like a broken record, but these have the same downsides as the other two (volume is the main problem), as well as carrying the same caution as over-the-ear headphones (they can block out warning sounds). Needless to say, these won’t work for you if you use hearing aids.

Several pairs may have to be evaluated before you find headphones that work for you. Depending on what you’re most often using them for talking on the phone, say, as opposed to listening to music, you’ll have different acoustic expectations. The essential thing is to seek out headphones that make it comfortable for you to listen at a safe and secure volume.

How to Make Sure Your Hearing is Protected

How can you be certain it’s okay? 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. You can get other apps, but research has discovered that the dependability of these other apps is hit-and-miss (also, for whatever reason, Android-based apps have been shown to be less precise). That prompted NIOSH to create an app of their own. 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. You have to put in a little effort, but putting in place these types of protective measures can help protect your hearing.

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