Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Individuals who work in loud surroundings like construction sites or at heavy metal concerts are not the only people affected by noise related loss of hearing. It doesn’t even have to be work-related, leisure-related noise exposure can be damaging, too. What type of exposure are we discussing? Loud noise heard through headphones, whether it’s music, gaming, streaming video, or even an audiobook with the volume turned up.

You might not believe your smartphone or tablet can get that loud. The average pain threshold for human hearing is about 150 db which is in the range of these devices. Your ears will literally start to feel pain at this volume. So what’s the answer for protecting your ears against volume related damage.

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

Create a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

If you use hearing aids, you’re more than likely streaming your mobile device directly to your hearing aids, so be sure the volume is not too high or that you’re not trying to drown out other noises with your music. And there are much healthier ways to listen to music so consult us about that as well. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you may have noticed that most hearing aids are created to improve the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. While enjoying music, we can probably make some adjustments to help improve the sound quality and reduce the feedback.

How to Pick The Best Headphones

If you don’t wear hearing aids, there are many options for buying headphones. There are various things to consider, even though it’s largely a matter of personal preference.

Headphones That go Over The Ears

While the foam-covered earpieces that came with your old Walkman are generally no longer used, over-the-ear headphones have made a comeback. They have a lot of choices in color and style, are often endorsed by celebrities, and can be surprisingly pricey. And unlike those little foam pads, these go over the whole ear, limiting outside noises.

Conventional perception is that these are less dangerous than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further away from your eardrum. But because the speakers are larger they are often capable of much louder volume. Noise cancellation can be a good thing as long as you’re not losing needed sounds such as an oncoming vehicle. Having said that, because they cancel out outside noise, you can typically lower the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not so loud that it will harm your ears.


The normal earbuds are well known for poor quality of sound, although a lot of people still use them because hey, they were included with the phone. Especially, with newer Apple devices, it’s just easier to use the earbuds that were provided 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 don’t block outside sounds, so that it’s more likely that you will crank up the sound level. Again, though it’s commonly said that earbuds are a problem because you stick them into your ear so their speakers are really close to your eardrum, volume is really the biggest concern.

Occluding or Isolating Earbuds

More comfortable than regular earbuds, models that have a round rubber tip are the choice of many people because they help obstruct outside sound. A seal that blocks outside sound from entering is formed by the rubber tip which conforms to the shape of the ear. But these earbuds can also block out sounds you might need to hear and volume is still the main concern. And if you wear hearing aids, clearly these won’t work for you.

A number of pairs will probably need to be tested before you find headphones that do the job. Your expectations, acoustically, will differ depending on what kind of use you usually give them. The relevant thing is to find headphones that make it comfortable for you to enjoy at a safe and secure sound level.

How to Make Sure Your Hearing is Safeguarded

How can you be sure it’s okay? 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 studies has discovered that the accuracy of these other apps is hit-and-miss (also, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have proven less reliable). That motivated NIOSH to create an app of their own. The app lets you measure external sounds, but you can also measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, so you will learn exactly how much volume your ears are subjected to. You have to put in a little effort, but taking these types of protective steps can help protect your hearing.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Main Line Audiology Consultants, PC