Evanston Audiology - Evanston, IL

Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Noise-related hearing loss doesn’t just impact people who work in loud environments, like construction workers or heavy metal roadies. Recreation related noise exposure can be just as dangerous as work related noise exposure. What type of exposure are we discussing? Music, gaming, streaming video or anything else that you would listen to through earbuds or headphones.

You might be surprised to find out that a mobile device can get that loud. The typical pain threshold for human hearing is close to 150 db which is in the range of these devices. Your ears will actually start to feel pain at this volume. So what can you do to protect against this sort of noise-related hearing loss?

The volume level here is significant. Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for 60 minutes or less at a stretch (how long you listen for also matters), this is known as the 60/60 rule.

Make a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

Be certain, if you’re wearing hearing aids, you don’t try to drown out other noises by turning your streaming music up too high. And there are better ways to listen to music so consult us about that also. Hearing aids aren’t designed to increase the quality of music like they do with voices so if you’re really into music, you may have observed this. We may be able to make adjustments to decrease noise and feedback while increasing some frequency to better the quality of sound while listening to music.

Choosing Headphones

When shopping for headphones there are numerous options, specifically if you wear hearing aids. There are various things to consider, although it’s largely a matter of personal preference.

Headphones That go Over The Ears

While the foam-covered speakers that came with your old Walkman are basically no longer used, over-the-ear headphones have had a resurgence. Often surprisingly costly, they feature lots of color possibilities and celebrity endorsements, and of course, exceptional 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 often capable of much louder sound level. Also, noise-canceling might help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other scenarios, it can block sounds you need to hear (such as a honking car). But on the upside, you don’t have to contend with outside sound so you can enjoy your music at lower levels.


The standard earbuds are well known for inferior sound quality, but because they come with your phone a lot of people still use them. Plus, with newer models that don’t have a headphone jack, sticking with Apple’s earbuds can just be easier.

The drawback, aside from the inferior sound quality, is that basic earbuds don’t cancel outside sounds, so that it’s more likely that you will crank up the volume. It’s generally assumed that inserting earbuds so close to your eardrum is the primary concern but it’s really the volume.

Noise Blocking Earbuds

More comfortable than ordinary earbuds, models that have a round rubber tip are the choice of many because they help stop outside sound. A seal that stops outside sound 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 types of earbuds have the same drawbacks 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). Obviously, these won’t work for you if you wear hearing aids.

A number of pairs might need to be tested before you find headphones that are right for you. Your expectations, acoustically, will differ dependant on what kind of usage you usually give them. Listening to your tunes at a safe volume and coming across headphones that assist you in doing that is essential.

How to be Sure Your Hearing is Safeguarded

How can you be sure it’s safe? 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 discovered that the accuracy of these other apps is spotty (also, for whatever reason, Android-based apps have been shown to be less reliable). That prompted NIOSH to develop an app of their own. The app allows you to measure external noises, but you can also measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, so you will know exactly how much volume your ears are subjected to. It’s a little bit of work, but putting in place these types of preventative measures can help safeguard 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.
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