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Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Noise-related loss of hearing doesn’t only impact people who work in loud surroundings, like construction workers or heavy metal roadies. It doesn’t even need to be work-related, recreation-related noise exposure can be dangerous, also. What type of exposure are we dealing with? Loud sounds heard through headphones, whether it be gaming, streaming video, music, or even an audiobook with the volume cranked up.

You may not realize your smartphone or tablet can go that loud. But these devices can achieve continuous volumes of over 105 dB, which is near the ordinary human pain threshold. This is the volume where noise starts to literally hurt your ears. So what’s the answer for safeguarding your ears against volume related damage.

It’s relevant here to consider the volume. A quick shorthand that’s widely suggested is the 60/60 rule: Listen with the volume at or below 60% for no more than 60 minutes in a single session (because how long you listen for matters, too).

Create a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

Make sure, if you’re using hearing aids, you don’t try to drown out other noises by cranking your streaming music up too high. And there are more appropriate ways to listen to music so consult us about that also. Hearing aids aren’t made to make music clearer like they do with voices so if you’re really into music, you may have noticed this. We may be able to make adjustments to reduce feedback and noise while maximizing some frequency ranges to better the quality of sound while listening to music.

How to Select The Right Headphones

If you don’t wear hearing aids, there are a lot of choices for buying headphones. It may be a matter of personal choice, but there are some things you will want to think about there too.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

Over the ear headphones are becoming popular again but you probably won’t see the old foam covered ear pieces that used to come with a walkman. Often shockingly high-priced, they offer lots of color possibilities and celebrity endorsements, and yes, exceptional sound quality. And these headphones go over the whole ear limiting unwanted sound, unlike those old foam ones.

Main-stream wisdom is that these are safer than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further away from your eardrum. But because the speakers are bigger they are often capable of much higher volume. In addition, noise-canceling may help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other situations, it can block sounds you need to hear (like a honking car). Having said that, because they cancel out outside sound, you can normally lower the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not so loud that it will hurt your hearing.


The normal earbuds are widely recognized for inferior quality of sound, though many people still use them because hey, they were included with the phone. Specifically, with newer Apple devices, it’s simply easier to use the earbuds that came with the device because it probably won’t have a headphone jack.

The drawback, in addition to the poor sound quality, is that basic earbuds can’t block outside noises, so that it’s more likely that you will pump up the volume. It’s generally assumed that placing earbuds so close to your eardrum is the primary problem but it’s really the volume.

Isolating or Occluding Earbuds

More comfortable than ordinary earbuds, models with a round rubber tip are the choice of many people because they help obstruct outside noise. The rubber molds to the shape of your ear, producing a seal that blocks other noises from entering. But these earbuds can also block out sounds you need to hear and volume is still the main concern. And if you use hearing aids, clearly these won’t work for you.

You might need to test out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that work for you. Your expectations, acoustically, will be different dependant on what type of usage you usually give them. Enjoying your music at a safe volume and coming across headphones that help you do that is essential.

Don’t Cut Corners When it Comes to Your Hearing

How can you be sure it’s okay? 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. You can get different apps, but studies has found that the dependability of these other apps is spotty (in addition, for whatever reason, Android-based apps have been shown to be less precise). That motivated NIOSH to develop an app of their own. The app enables you to measure outside noises, but sounds coming from your device’s speakers can also be measured, so you will know precisely how much volume your ears are subjected to. You have to put in a little effort, but putting in place these kinds of protective steps can help safeguard your ears.

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