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Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

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

You might not realize your smartphone or tablet can get that loud. The typical pain threshold for human hearing is close to 150 db which is well within the range of these devices. Your ears will literally start to hurt at this volume. So what’s the solution for safeguarding your hearing against volume related injury.

It’s important here to think about the volume. 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 known as the 60/60 rule.

Make a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Music

If you wear hearing aids, you’re likely streaming your device right to your hearing aids, so make sure the volume is not too loud or that you’re not attempting to drown out other sounds with your music. And there are better ways to listen to music so ask us about that also. If you’re a musician or someone who loves music you may have noticed that most hearing aids are programmed to enhance the quality of voices…not necessarily music. While listening to music, we can probably make various modifications to help improve the quality of sound and decrease the feedback.

What Are The Best Headphones For You?

If you don’t use hearing aids, there are many options for purchasing headphones. There are various things to think about, though it’s mostly a matter of personal preference.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

Over the ear headphones are becoming popular again but you probably won’t find the old foam covered speakers that used to come with a walkman. Often unexpectedly costly, they provide a large variety of color options and celebrity endorsements, and yes, exceptional sound quality. And these headphones go over the whole ear blocking 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 from your eardrum. But the reality is they’re usually capable of much louder sound than their smaller kin, the speakers are much bigger. Additionally, noise-canceling could possibly help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other circumstances, it can block sounds you need to hear (such as a car honking). But on the upside, you won’t need to contend with outside sound so you can listen to your music at lower levels.


The normal earbuds that come with devices like iPhones are known for their inferior sound quality, even though many people still use them because hey, they came with the phone. In addition, with newer devices that lack a headphone jack, staying with Apple’s earbuds can simply be easier.

The downside, in addition to the inferior sound quality, is that basic earbuds don’t block outside noises, so you’re more likely to crank up the volume. It’s generally assumed that sticking earbuds so close to your eardrum is the primary problem but it’s actually the volume.

Noise Canceling Earbuds

A lot of people opt for earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfortable than standard earbuds and better at blocking outside sounds. A seal that blocks outside noise from getting in is formed by the rubber tip which conforms to the shape of the ear. Not to sound like a broken record, but these have the same disadvantages 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, obviously these won’t work for you.

Several pairs will probably have to be tested before you find headphones that work for you. Depending on what you regularly use them for talking on the phone, say, as opposed to listening to music, you’ll have different acoustic requirements. The significant thing is to seek out headphones that make it comfortable for you to enjoy at a safe and secure sound level.

Don’t Cut Corners When it Comes to Your Hearing

Is it Safe, How Can I be Sure? There’s an app for that…If you use 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 found that the dependability of these other apps is spotty (also, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have been shown less accurate). That motivated NIOSH to develop their own app. The app allows you to measure external noises, but sounds coming from your device’s speakers can also be measured, this means, the true volume of what’s being sent to your ears. It’s a little bit of effort, but taking these types of preventative measures can help safeguard your ears.