How to Safeguard Your Hearing From Loud Music

Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Noise-related loss of hearing doesn’t only impact people who work in loud settings, like construction workers or heavy metal roadies. Recreation related noise exposure can be just as dangerous as work related noise exposure. The most prevalent type? Loud sounds heard through headphones, whether it’s gaming, streaming video, music, or even an audiobook with the volume cranked up.

You might be alarmed to find out that a mobile device can go that loud. But these devices can achieve continuous volumes of over 105 dB, which is close to the ordinary human threshold for pain. This is the volume at which noise begins to literally hurt your ears. So what’s the plan to safeguard against this type of noise-related hearing loss?

The volume level here is important. 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 in a single session (because the length of sound exposure matters, too).

Your Hearing Aids Can be Set up For Music

Be sure, if you’re using hearing aids, you don’t attempt to drown out other noises by cranking your streaming music up too loud. Also, ask us about how best to listen to music. If you’re a musician or someone who loves music you may have noticed that most hearing aids are created to sharpen the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. While enjoying music, we can most likely make a few modifications to help improve the quality of sound and reduce the feedback.

Picking out Headphones

If you don’t have hearing aids, there are many options for purchasing headphones. There are various things to consider, even though it’s mostly a matter of personal choice.

Headphones That go Over The Ears

Over the ear headphones are becoming popular again but you probably won’t see the old foam covered ear pieces that once came with a walkman. Often surprisingly pricey, they offer lots of color options and celebrity endorsements, and of course, better sound quality. And unlike those little foam pads, these go over the entire ear, limiting outside sounds.

Main-stream 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 normally capable of much louder sound level. Also, noise-canceling could possibly help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other circumstances, it can silence sounds you should hear (like a honking car). But on the positive side, you won’t need to compete with outside noise so you can enjoy your music at lower levels.


The standard earbuds are widely known for poor quality of sound, but because they come with your phone a lot of people still use them. In addition, with newer devices that lack a headphone jack, sticking with Apple’s earbuds can simply be easier.

The downside, in addition to the poor sound quality, is that basic earbuds can’t block outside sounds, so you’re more likely to pump up the sound level. Once again,, though it’s often said that earbuds are a problem because you put them into your ear so their speakers are very close to your eardrum, volume is really the biggest concern.

Isolating or Occluding Earbuds

A lot of people prefer earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfortable than normal earbuds and better at stopping outside noises. The rubber conforms to the shape of your ear, creating a seal that blocks other sounds from entering. 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 have hearing aids, clearly these won’t work for you.

You may have to check out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that meet your specifications. Depending on what you regularly use them for talking on the phone, say, versus listening to music, you’ll have unique acoustic requirements. The significant thing is to seek out headphones that make it comfortable for you to listen at a safe and secure volume.

Don’t Cut Corners When Dealing With Your Hearing

How can you be certain it’s okay? 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 other apps, but research has found that the reliability of these other apps is hit-and-miss (additionally, for unknown reasons, Android-based apps have been shown less precise). That motivated NIOSH to create an app of their own. The app lets you measure outside noises, but sounds coming from your device’s speakers can be measured too, essentially, the actual volume of what’s being sent to your ears. It’s a little bit of work, but putting in place these types of preventative steps can help protect your hearing.

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