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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 impacted by noise related loss of hearing. Recreation related noise exposure can be just as damaging as work related noise exposure. What kind of exposure are we discussing? Music, gaming, streaming video or anything else that you would listen to through earbuds or headphones.

You might not realize your smartphone or tablet can get that loud. But these devices can achieve sustained volumes of over 105 dB, which is close to the ordinary human pain threshold. This is the volume where noise begins to literally hurt your ears. So what’s the solution for safeguarding your hearing against volume related damage.

It’s important here to think about the volume. Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for 60 minutes or less at a stretch (how long you listen for also matters), this is known as the 60/60 rule.

Make a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

If you wear hearing aids, you’re most likely streaming your mobile device directly to your hearing aids, so be sure the volume is not too loud or that you’re not attempting to drown out other sounds with your music. And there are better ways to listen to music so consult us about that as well. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you may have recognized that most hearing aids are programmed to sharpen the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. While enjoying music, we can probably make a few adjustments to help enhance the quality of sound and decrease the feedback.

Picking out Headphones

If you don’t use hearing aids, there are lots of options for buying headphones. There are various things to think about, although it’s mostly a matter of personal preference.

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 once came with a walkman. Often shockingly expensive, they feature lots of color choices and celebrity endorsements, and yes, better sound quality. And these headphones cover the entire ear limiting out noise, unlike those old foam ones.

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 larger they are normally capable of much louder volume. Noise cancellation can be a good thing as long as you’re not losing useful sounds such as an oncoming car or truck. But on the positive side, you won’t have to contend with outside noise so you can enjoy 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 lots of people still use them. Specifically, with newer Apple devices, it’s just easier to use the earbuds which came with the device because it most likely won’t have a headphone jack.

The drawback, aside from the poor sound quality, is that basic earbuds don’t cancel outside sounds, so that it’s more likely that you will crank up the sound level. It’s generally believed that inserting earbuds so close to your eardrum is the main concern but it’s actually the volume.

Earbuds That Block External Noise

Lots of people choose earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfy than normal earbuds and better at blocking outside sounds. A seal that blocks outside noise from getting in is formed by the rubber tip which molds to the shape of the ear. But these earbuds can also block out sounds you need to hear and volume is still the biggest problem. Needless to say, these won’t work for you if you wear hearing aids.

You may need to check out more than one pair before you find headphones that are correct for you. Depending on what you’re most often using them for say talking on the phone, as opposed to listening to music, you’ll have different acoustic expectations. The significant thing is to seek out headphones that make it comfortable for you to enjoy at a safe sound level.

How to Make Sure Your Hearing is Protected

Is it Safe, How Can I be Sure? There’s an app for that…If you use a smartphone, you can get the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s free Sound Level Meter app. There are other apps you can get, but studies has discovered that the accuracy of these other apps is hit-and-miss (additionally, for whatever reason, Android-based apps have proven less precise). That motivated NIOSH to create an app of their own. The app enables you to measure outside sounds, but it’s also possible to measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, essentially, the true volume of what’s being sent to your ears. You have to do a little work, but taking these kinds of preventative steps can help protect your ears.