Audio Life Hearing Center- Knoxville, TN

Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Individuals who work in loud environments such as construction sites or at heavy metal concerts are not the only ones impacted by noise related hearing loss. It doesn’t even have to be work-related, leisure-related noise exposure can be damaging, too. The most common type? Music, gaming, streaming video or anything else that you would listen to through earbuds or headphones.

You might not believe your smartphone or tablet can go that loud. The typical pain threshold for human hearing is roughly 150 db which is well within the range of these devices. Your ears will actually start to hurt at this volume. So what can you do to protect against this sort of noise-related hearing loss?

It’s relevant 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 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 Listening to Music

If you have hearing aids, you’re most likely streaming your mobile device directly to your hearing aids, so make sure the volume is not too loud or that you’re not trying to drown out other sounds with your music. In addition, ask us about how best to listen to music. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you might have noticed that most hearing aids are developed to sharpen the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. While listening to music, we can most likely make a few modifications to help improve the sound quality and lessen the feedback.

Choosing Headphones

If you don’t own hearing aids, there are lots of options for buying headphones. There are various things to think about, although it’s generally a matter of personal choice.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

Over the ear headphones are becoming popular again but you probably won’t find the old foam covered ear pieces that used to come with a walkman. They have lots of choices in style and color, are frequently endorsed by celebrities, and can be unexpectedly pricey. And unlike those little foam pads, these cover the entire ear, stopping outside noises.

Conventional 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 usually capable of much louder volume. Additionally, noise-canceling may 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 don’t need to contend with outside sound so you can enjoy your music at lower levels.


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

The downside, in addition to the poor sound quality, is that basic earbuds don’t cancel outside sounds, so that it’s more likely that you will crank up the volume. 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, actually volume is really the biggest issue.

Noise Blocking Earbuds

More comfortable than regular earbuds, models that have a round rubber tip are the choice of many because they help obstruct outside sound. A seal that stops outside noise from entering is formed by the rubber tip which molds to the shape of the ear. But these earbuds can also block out sounds you might need to hear and loud volume is still the number one issue. Needless to say, these won’t work for you if you have hearing aids.

You may need to try out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that work for you. Your expectations, acoustically, will vary depending on what kind of use you usually give them. The significant thing is to find headphones that make it comfortable for you to listen at a safe and secure sound level.

Don’t Cut Corners When it Comes to Your Hearing

How can you be certain it’s okay? If you use a smartphone, you can get an app for that, you can get the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s free Sound Level Meter app. There are different apps you can get, but studies has found that the dependability of these other apps is spotty (also, for whatever reason, Android-based apps have been shown less reliable). That prompted NIOSH to develop an app of their own. The app allows you to measure outside noises, but it’s also possible to measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, essentially, the actual volume of what’s going to your ears. You have to do a little work, but taking these kinds 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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