Enjoy Music? Safeguard Your Hearing With These Guidelines

Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

People who work in loud settings like construction sites or at heavy metal concerts are not the only people impacted by noise related hearing loss. Leisure related noise exposure can be just as damaging as work related noise exposure. The most prevalent type? Music, gaming, streaming video or anything else that you would listen to through headphones or earbuds.

You may not realize your smartphone or tablet can go that loud. The average pain threshold for human hearing is about 150 db which is in the range of these devices. This is the volume at which noise begins to literally cause pain in your ears. So what’s the plan to safeguard against this sort of noise-related hearing loss?

It’s significant here to think about the volume. Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for 60 minutes or less each session (how long you listen for also matters), this is called the 60/60 rule.

Your Hearing Aids Can be Set up For Listening to Music

If you have hearing aids, you’re most likely streaming your device right to your hearing aids, so be sure the volume is not too loud or that you’re not attempting to drown out other noises with your music. Also, ask us about how best to listen to music. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you may have recognized that most hearing aids are programmed to improve the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. We may be able to make adjustments to minimize feedback and noise while maximizing some frequency ranges to enhance the quality of sound while listening to music.

What Are The Right Headphones For You?

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

Over-the-Ear Headphones

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. They have lots of options in style and color, are commonly endorsed by celebrities, and can be surprisingly costly. And unlike those little foam pads, these cover the whole ear, blocking outside noises.

Conventional wisdom is that these are safer than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further from your eardrum. But the reality is they’re often able to reach louder volume than their smaller kin, the speakers are a lot larger. Additionally, noise-canceling may help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other circumstances, it can silence sounds you should hear (like a honking car). Having said that, because they block out outside sound, you can often decrease the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not loud enough to hurt your ears.


The normal earbuds are widely known for inferior quality of sound, 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 simply be easier.

Earbuds also don’t cancel out sound so the downside is, you tend to crank up the sound level. Once again,, though it’s often said that earbuds are a problem because you stick them into your ear so their speakers are really close to your eardrum, actually volume is really the biggest concern.

Occluding or Isolating Earbuds

Many people prefer earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfy than normal earbuds and more effective at blocking outside noises. A seal that blocks outside noise from entering is formed by the rubber tip which conforms to the shape of the ear. Not to sound like a broken record, but these types of earbuds have the same downsides as the other two (volume is the main problem), as well as carrying the same caution as over-the-ear headphones (they can block out warning sounds). And if you have hearing aids, clearly these won’t work for you.

You may need to try out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that do the job. Your expectations, acoustically, will vary depending on what kind of use you usually give them. Listening to your tunes at a healthy volume and finding headphones that assist you in doing that is essential.

How to be Sure Your Hearing is Safeguarded

How can you be sure it’s okay? If you own a smartphone, you can get an app for that, you can download 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 reliability of these other apps is hit-and-miss (in addition, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have proven less accurate). That motivated NIOSH to create their own app. You can measure external noise using the app, but sounds coming out of your device’s speakers can be measured too, essentially, the actual volume of what’s being sent to your ears. You have to put in a little effort, but putting in place these types of preventative measures can help safeguard your hearing.

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