Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

People 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, leisure-related noise exposure can be damaging, too. The most common type? 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 ordinary pain threshold for human hearing is roughly 150 db which is well within the range of these devices. This is the volume where noise starts to literally hurt your ears. So what’s the answer for protecting your hearing against volume related damage.

The volume level here is essential. A simple shorthand that’s widely suggested is the 60/60 rule: Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for no more than 60 minutes at a stretch (because how long you listen for matters, too).

Create a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Music

Be certain, if you’re wearing hearing aids, you don’t attempt to drown out other sounds by turning your streaming music up too loud. And there are more appropriate ways to listen to music so ask us about that as well. Hearing aids aren’t created to increase the quality of music like they do with voices so if really like music, you may have discovered this. While enjoying music, we can probably make various modifications to help improve the sound quality and decrease the feedback.

Picking out Headphones

If you don’t wear hearing aids, there are many choices for picking out headphones. It might be a matter of personal preference, but there are some things you will want to think about there as well.

Headphones That go Over The Ears

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

Conventional wisdom 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 usually able to reach louder sound than their smaller kin, the speakers are a lot bigger. In addition, noise-canceling may help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other circumstances, it can block sounds you need to hear (such as a honking car). With that being said, because they block out outside noise, you can normally lower the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not loud enough to harm your hearing.


The standard earbuds are well known for poor quality of sound, even though lots of people still use them because hey, they were included with the phone. Plus, with newer versions that don’t have a headphone jack, staying with Apple’s earbuds can simply be easier.

Earbuds also don’t block out noise so the downside is, you tend to turn up the volume. Once again,, though it’s commonly said that earbuds are problematic because you put them in your ear so their speakers are really close to your eardrum, volume is really the biggest problem.

Isolating or Occluding Earbuds

Lots of people prefer earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfy than normal earbuds and more effective at blocking outside sounds. The rubber conforms to the shape of your ear, creating a seal that stops other sounds from entering. But these earbuds can also block out noises you might need to hear and volume is still the primary concern. And if you wear hearing aids, obviously these won’t work for you.

You may have to try out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that work for you. Depending on what you’re most often using them for say talking on the phone, versus listening to music, you’ll have unique acoustic expectations. The essential thing is to find headphones that make it comfortable for you to listen at a safe and secure sound level.

Don’t Cut Corners When it Comes to Your Hearing

How can you be sure it’s safe? There’s an app for that…If you use a smartphone, you can download the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s free Sound Level Meter app. You can get other apps, but studies has discovered that the reliability of these other apps is hit-and-miss (in addition, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have been shown to be less reliable). That prompted NIOSH to create an app of their own. You can measure outside noise with the app, but you can also measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, in other words, the true volume of what’s going to your ears. It’s a little bit of effort, but taking these kinds of preventative 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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