Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Individuals who work in loud surroundings such as construction sites or at heavy metal concerts are not the only people affected by noise related hearing loss. Leisure related noise exposure can be just as dangerous as work related noise exposure. What type of exposure are we discussing? Loud sounds heard through headphones, whether it’s gaming, streaming video, music, or even an audiobook with the volume cranked up.

You may be surprised to discover that a mobile device can get that loud. But these devices can achieve sustained volumes of over 105 dB, which is near the normal human threshold for pain. Your ears will literally start to feel pain at this volume. So what can you do to protect against this type of noise-related loss of hearing?

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

Create a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Music

Be sure, if you’re wearing hearing aids, you don’t attempt to drown out other noises by cranking your streaming music up too loud. And there are much healthier ways to listen to music so ask us about that as well. Hearing aids aren’t designed to increase the quality of music like they do with voices so if you’re really into music, you may have discovered this. While listening to music, we can probably make a few modifications to help better the quality of sound and lessen the feedback.

How to Pick The Right Headphones

If you don’t own hearing aids, there are a lot of choices for getting headphones. It might be a matter of personal choice, but there are some things you will want to think about there as well.

Headphones That go Over The Ears

While the foam-covered speakers that came with your old Walkman are mostly a thing of the past, over-the-ear headphones have made a comeback. Often shockingly expensive, they offer a large variety of color possibilities and celebrity endorsements, and of course, better sound quality. And unlike those little foam pads, these go over the whole ear, limiting outside noises.

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 normally capable of much louder sound level. In addition, noise-canceling may help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other scenarios, it can block sounds you should hear (such as a honking car). But on the positive side, you don’t have to compete with outside sound so you can enjoy your music at lower volumes.


The standard earbuds are widely known for inferior sound quality, even though lots of people still use them because hey, they were included with the phone. Moreover, with newer devices that lack a headphone jack, staying with Apple’s earbuds can just be easier.

Earbuds also don’t cancel out sound so the drawback is, you tend to turn up the volume. It’s generally thought that placing earbuds so close to your eardrum is the primary concern but it’s really the volume.

Noise Blocking Earbuds

More comfortable than regular earbuds, models with a round rubber tip are the choice of many people because they help obstruct outside sound. The rubber conforms to the shape of your ear, producing a seal that blocks other sounds from getting in. Not to sound like a broken record, but these types of earbuds have the same downsides as the other two (it’s all about the volume), as well as carrying the same caution as over-the-ear headphones (they can block out warning sounds). And if you use hearing aids, clearly these won’t work for you.

You might have to try out more than one pair before you find headphones that work for you. Depending on what you regularly use them for say talking on the phone, as opposed to listening to music, you’ll have different acoustic requirements. Listening to your tunes at a safe volume and finding headphones that assist you in doing that is essential.

Don’t Cut Corners When Dealing With Your Hearing

How can you be sure it’s safe? There’s an app for that…If you have a smartphone, you can download the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s free Sound Level Meter app. You can get different apps, but research has discovered that the dependability of these other apps is hit-and-miss (also, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have proven less accurate). That motivated NIOSH to develop an app of their own. The app lets you measure external sounds, but it’s also possible to measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, in other words, the true volume of what’s being sent to your ears. You have to put in a little effort, but taking these kinds of preventative measures can help safeguard your ears.