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 hearing loss. It doesn’t even have to be work-related, leisure-related noise exposure can be harmful, too. The most prevalent kind? Music, gaming, streaming video or anything else that you would listen to through headphones or earbuds.

You might be alarmed to find out that a mobile device can get that loud. The normal pain threshold for human hearing is around 150 db which is in the range of these devices. This is the volume at which noise starts to literally hurt your ears. So what can you do to safeguard against this sort of noise-related hearing loss?

The volume level here is important. Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for no more than 60 minutes each session (how long you listen for also makes a difference), this is called the 60/60 rule.

Make a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

If you wear hearing aids, you’re more than likely streaming your device directly to your hearing aids, so be sure the volume is not too high or that you’re not trying to drown out other sounds with your music. And there are much healthier ways to listen to music so ask us about that also. If you’re a musician or someone who loves music you may have recognized that most hearing aids are programmed to improve the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. While enjoying music, we can probably make some adjustments to help better the sound quality and decrease the feedback.

Selecting Headphones

If you don’t own hearing aids, there are a lot of options for purchasing headphones. It might be a matter of personal preference, but there are some things you will want to think about there too.

Headphones That go Over The Ears

While the foam-covered earpieces that came with your old Walkman are largely no longer used, over-the-ear headphones have had a resurgence. Often surprisingly high-priced, they feature a large variety of color possibilities and celebrity endorsements, and yes, exceptional sound quality. And unlike those little foam pads, these go over the whole ear, limiting outside noises.

Conventional perception 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 usually capable of much higher volume. Noise cancellation can be a helpful thing as long as you’re not missing important sounds such as an oncoming car or truck. But on the upside, you won’t have to compete with outside noise so you can enjoy your music at lower levels.


The normal earbuds that are included with devices such as iPhones are known for their inferior sound quality, but because they come along with your phone many people still use them. Moreover, with newer models that no longer have a headphone jack, sticking with Apple’s earbuds can just be easier.

The drawback, aside from the inferior sound quality, is that basic earbuds can’t block outside sounds, so that it’s more likely that you will pump up the sound level. Again, though it’s commonly said that earbuds are a problem because you put them into your ear so their speakers are very close to your eardrum, volume is really the biggest problem.

Earbuds That Block External Sound

A lot of people prefer earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfortable than traditional earbuds and more effective at blocking outside noises. The rubber conforms to the shape of your ear, creating a seal that stops other noises from getting in. 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 wear hearing aids, obviously these won’t work for you.

A number of pairs might have to be tested before you find headphones that are what you are looking for. Your expectations, acoustically, will vary dependant on what type of use you usually give them. Enjoying your music at a safe volume and coming across headphones that help you do that is essential.

How to be Certain 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 get 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 reliability of these other apps is spotty (additionally, for unknown reasons, Android-based apps have proven to be less accurate). That prompted NIOSH to create an app of their own. You can measure outside noise using the app, but it’s also possible to measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, so you will know exactly how much volume your ears are getting. It’s a little bit of work, but putting in place these kinds of preventative measures can help safeguard your ears.