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Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

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

You might be surprised to learn that a mobile device can go that loud. But these devices can attain sustained 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 solution for protecting your hearing against volume related damage.

The volume level here is essential. Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for 60 minutes or less at a stretch (how long you listen for also makes a difference), this is known as the 60/60 rule.

Your Hearing Aids Can be Set up For Listening to Music

Be sure, if you’re wearing hearing aids, you don’t attempt to drown out other noises by turning your streaming music up too high. And there are much healthier ways to listen to music so consult us about that also. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you may have noticed that most hearing aids are developed to enhance the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. We may be able to make adjustments to lessen noise and feedback while maximizing some frequency to improve the quality of sound when listening to music.

What Are The Best Headphones For You?

When getting headphones there are lots of choices, particularly if you have hearing aids. There are various things to think about, even though it’s generally a matter of personal choice.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

While the foam-covered speakers that came with your old Walkman are basically a thing of the past, over-the-ear headphones have had a resurgence. Often unexpectedly high-priced, they provide a large variety of color options and celebrity endorsements, and yes, better sound quality. And these headphones go over the entire ear blocking unwanted sound, 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 bigger they are normally capable of much louder sound level. Noise cancellation can be a helpful thing as long as you’re not missing out on useful sounds like an oncoming automobile. Having said that, because they block out outside noise, you can normally reduce the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not so loud that it will injure your hearing.


The normal earbuds are well known for poor sound quality, but because they come along with your phone a lot of people still use them. Specifically, with newer Apple phones, it’s just easier to use the earbuds that came with the device because it most likely doesn’t have a headphone jack.

Earbuds also don’t block out sound so the downside is, you have a tendency to turn up the volume. Again, though it’s commonly said that earbuds are problematic because you stick them in your ear so their speakers are extremely close to your eardrum, volume is really the biggest issue.

Noise Blocking Earbuds

Many people choose earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfy than traditional earbuds and more effective at stopping outside noises. The rubber conforms to the shape of your ear, producing a seal that blocks other noises from getting in. But these earbuds can also block out sounds you need to hear and volume is still the biggest concern. And if you wear hearing aids, clearly these won’t work for you.

You might need to test out more than one pair before you find headphones that meet your specifications. Depending on what you regularly use them for talking on the phone, say, versus listening to music, you’ll have different acoustic requirements. The essential thing is to find headphones that make it comfortable for you to enjoy at a safe sound level.

How to be Certain Your Hearing is Protected

How can you be sure it’s safe? 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. You can get other apps, but studies has found that the reliability of these other apps is spotty (also, for unknown reasons, Android-based apps have been shown less reliable). That motivated NIOSH to create an app of their own. You can measure outside sounds using the app, but it’s also possible to measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, essentially, the true volume of what’s going to your ears. You have to put in a little effort, but putting in place these types of preventative measures can help protect your ears.

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