Hearing Health Blog

Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Noise-related hearing loss doesn’t just affect individuals who work in loud environments, such as construction workers or heavy metal roadies. Recreation associated noise exposure can be just as damaging as work related noise exposure. The most prevalent type? Loud noise heard through headphones, whether it be gaming, streaming video, music, or even an audiobook with the volume cranked up.

You may be alarmed to discover that a mobile device 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 hurt at this volume. So what’s the answer for safeguarding your ears against volume related injury.

The volume level here is important. An easy 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 the length of sound exposure matters, too).

Your Hearing Aids Can be Set up For Music

If you use hearing aids, you’re more than likely streaming your device right to your hearing aids, so make sure the volume is not too high or that you’re not attempting to drown out other noises with your music. Also, consult us about how best to listen to music. Hearing aids aren’t created to increase the quality of music like they do with voices so if really like music, you may have noticed this. While listening to music, we can most likely make various modifications to help better the quality of sound and reduce the feedback.

Picking out Headphones

When buying headphones there are numerous choices, particularly if you wear hearing aids. It might be a matter of personal choice, but there are some things you will want to consider there as well.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

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 a lot of options in color and style, are often endorsed by celebrities, and can be surprisingly pricey. And unlike those little foam pads, these cover the entire ear, limiting outside sounds.

Main-stream perception is that these are safer than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further from your eardrum. But the truth is they’re usually capable of much louder volume than their smaller kin, the speakers are much larger. Noise cancellation can be a good thing as long as you’re not missing needed sounds like an oncoming automobile. But on the positive side, you don’t need to contend with outside sound so you can listen to your music at lower levels.


The normal earbuds that come with devices like iPhones are much maligned for their poor sound quality, yet lots of people still use them because hey, they were included with the phone. Specifically, with newer Apple devices, it’s just easier to use the earbuds that were provided with the device because it probably won’t have a headphone jack.

The downside, besides the poor sound quality, is that basic earbuds can’t block outside noises, so you’re more likely to crank up the sound level. It’s commonly thought that inserting earbuds so close to your eardrum is the main problem but it’s really the volume.

Occluding or Isolating Earbuds

More comfortable than regular earbuds, models with a round rubber tip are the choice of many people because they help block outside sound. The rubber conforms to the shape of your ear, producing a seal that blocks other sounds from entering. But these earbuds can also block out sounds you might need to hear and loud volume is still the number one problem. And if you use hearing aids, clearly these won’t work for you.

You may have to test out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that are appropriate for you. Your expectations, acoustically, will be different depending on what kind of usage you usually give them. The essential thing is to find headphones that make it comfortable for you to listen at a safe sound level.

How to Make Sure Your Hearing is Protected

How can you be certain it’s okay? If you have a smartphone, you can get an app for that, you can get the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s free Sound Level Meter app. There are different apps you can get, but research has found that the accuracy of these other apps is spotty (in addition, for unknown reasons, Android-based apps have been shown to be less accurate). That prompted NIOSH to develop an app of their own. You can measure external sounds using the app, but sounds coming from your device’s speakers can also be measured, so you will learn precisely how much volume your ears are subjected to. You have to put in a little effort, but putting in place these types of protective steps can help protect 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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