Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

People who work in loud environments like construction sites or at heavy metal concerts are not the only ones impacted by noise related hearing loss. It doesn’t even have to be work-related, leisure-related noise exposure can be harmful, too. What kind of exposure are we dealing with? Music, gaming, streaming video or anything else that you would listen to through headphones or earbuds.

You might not realize your smartphone or tablet can get 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 at which noise begins to literally hurt your ears. So what’s the answer for safeguarding your hearing against volume related injury.

The volume level here is significant. 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

Be sure, if you’re utilizing hearing aids, you don’t attempt to drown out other noises by cranking your streaming music up too loud. Also, ask us about how to best listen to music. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you might have noticed that most hearing aids are programmed to sharpen the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. We may be able to change the configuration to decrease noise and feedback while increasing some frequency to improve the quality of sound while listening to music.

How to Pick The Right Headphones

If you don’t wear hearing aids, there are a lot of options for getting headphones. It may be a matter of personal choice, but there are some things you should consider there as well.

Headphones That go Over The Ears

While the foam-covered speakers that came with your old Walkman are largely no longer used, over-the-ear headphones have had a resurgence. They have lots of choices in color and style, are usually endorsed by celebrities, and can be surprisingly pricey. And unlike those little foam pads, these cover the whole ear, blocking outside sounds.

Conventional wisdom is that these are safer than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further from your eardrum. But because the speakers are larger they are normally capable of much higher volume. Noise cancellation can be a good thing as long as you’re not losing important sounds such as an oncoming car. But on the positive side, you won’t have to contend with outside noise so you can listen to your music at lower volumes.


The normal earbuds that come with devices such as iPhones are known for their poor sound quality, but because they come along with your phone many people still use them. Moreover, with newer models that don’t have a headphone jack, staying with Apple’s earbuds can just be easier.

Earbuds also don’t block out noise so the downside is, you have a tendency to turn up the volume. Again, though it’s frequently said that earbuds are a problem because you put them in your ear so their speakers are really close to your eardrum, volume is the biggest concern.

Noise Blocking Earbuds

Lots of people buy earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfortable than standard earbuds and more effective at stopping outside noises. A seal that stops outside noise from getting in is formed by the rubber tip which conforms to the shape of the ear. But these earbuds can also block out sounds you need to hear and volume is still the main problem. And if you have hearing aids, obviously these won’t work for you.

You might need to test out more than one pair before you find headphones that are appropriate for you. Depending on what you’re most often using them for talking on the phone, say, versus listening to music, you’ll have unique acoustic expectations. The essential thing is to seek out headphones that make it comfortable for you to enjoy at a safe and secure sound level.

Don’t Cut Corners When it Comes to Your Hearing

Is it Safe, How Can I be certain? There’s an app for that…If you have a smartphone, you can get the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s free Sound Level Meter app. There are other apps out there, but research has discovered that the accuracy of these other apps is spotty (also, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have been shown to be less reliable). That prompted NIOSH to create their own app. You can measure outside noise using the app, but sounds coming from your device’s speakers can be measured too, this means, the true volume of what’s going to your ears. You have to do a little work, but taking these types of protective measures can help safeguard your ears.

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