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Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Noise-related hearing loss doesn’t only affect individuals who work in loud surroundings, such as construction workers or heavy metal roadies. Recreation associated noise exposure can be just as damaging as work related noise exposure. The most prevalent kind? Loud sounds heard through headphones, whether it be music, gaming, streaming video, or even an audiobook with the volume cranked up.

You may not think your smartphone or tablet can go that loud. But these devices can achieve continuous volumes of over 105 dB, which is close to the average human pain threshold. This is the volume where noise begins to literally cause pain in your ears. So what can you do to protect against this type of noise-related hearing loss?

It’s important here to think about the volume. A simple shorthand that’s widely recommended is the 60/60 rule: Listen with the volume at or below 60% for no more than 60 minutes at a stretch (because how long you listen for matters, too).

Your Hearing Aids Can be Set up For Listening to Music

Be sure, if you’re using hearing aids, you don’t attempt to drown out other sounds by turning your streaming music up too high. Additionally, ask us about how best to listen to music. Hearing aids aren’t made to increase the quality of music like they do with voices so if really like music, you may have noticed this. While enjoying music, we can most likely make a few adjustments to help enhance the sound quality and minimize the feedback.

What Are The Best Headphones For You?

When shopping for headphones there are many options, particularly if you wear hearing aids. There are various things to consider, even though it’s generally a matter of personal preference.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

While the foam-covered speakers that was included with your old Walkman are basically a thing of the past, over-the-ear headphones have made a comeback. Often shockingly pricey, they provide lots of color options and celebrity endorsements, and yes, superior sound quality. And these headphones go over the entire ear blocking unwanted sound, unlike those old foam ones.

Main-stream perception is that these are less dangerous than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further from your eardrum. But because the speakers are bigger they are normally capable of much higher volume. Noise cancellation can be a good thing as long as you’re not missing out on important sounds such as an oncoming vehicle. But on the positive side, you don’t need to compete with outside sound so you can enjoy your music at lower levels.


The standard earbuds that are included with devices such as iPhones are much maligned for their inferior sound quality, but because they come along with your phone many people still use them. Specifically, with newer Apple devices, it’s just easier to use the earbuds which were provided with the device because it probably doesn’t have a headphone jack.

The drawback, aside from the inferior sound quality, is that basic earbuds don’t block outside noises, so that it’s more likely that you will pump up the volume. It’s commonly believed that placing earbuds so close to your eardrum is the main issue but it’s really the volume.

Occluding or Isolating Earbuds

Many people choose earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfortable than traditional earbuds and more effective at stopping 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 have the same disadvantages 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). Obviously, these won’t work for you if you use hearing aids.

You might have to check out more than one pair before you find headphones that do the job. Your expectations, acoustically, will vary depending on what type of use you normally give them. The essential thing is to seek out headphones that make it comfortable for you to listen at a safe and secure sound level.

How to Make Sure Your Hearing is Safeguarded

Is it Safe, How Can I be Sure? 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 other apps, but research has found that the accuracy of these other apps is spotty (additionally, for whatever reason, Android-based apps have proven to be less reliable). That prompted NIOSH to develop their own app. The app enables you to measure outside 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 going to your ears. It’s a little bit of effort, but putting in place these kinds of protective steps can help protect your ears.

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.
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