Gold Country Hearing - Gold Country Valley, CA

Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

People who work in loud surroundings such as construction sites or at heavy metal concerts are not the only ones affected by noise related hearing loss. Recreation related noise exposure can be just as dangerous as work related noise exposure. What type of exposure are we dealing with? Loud sounds heard through headphones, whether it be music, gaming, streaming video, or even an audiobook with the volume turned up.

You may not realize your smartphone or tablet can go that loud. The normal pain threshold for human hearing is about 150 db which is in the range of these devices. Your ears will literally start to hurt at this volume. So what’s the plan to protect against this kind of noise-related loss of hearing?

It’s important here to consider the volume. A simple 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).

Make a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

If you have hearing aids, you’re more than likely streaming your device right 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. Also, ask us about how best to listen to music. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you might have recognized that most hearing aids are programmed to sharpen the quality of voices…not necessarily music. While listening to music, we can probably make a few adjustments to help enhance the sound quality and minimize the feedback.

How to Choose The Best Headphones

If you don’t wear hearing aids, there are many options for getting headphones. It might be a matter of personal choice, but there are some things you should consider there as well.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

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. They have lots of options in color and style, are often endorsed by celebrities, and can be surprisingly pricey. And these headphones cover the entire ear stopping out noise, unlike those old foam ones.

Main-stream wisdom is that these are safer than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further away from your eardrum. But the reality is they’re usually capable of much louder volume than the smaller kind, the speakers are much bigger. Also, noise-canceling will probably help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other circumstances, it can block sounds you need to hear (such as a honking car). But on the positive side, you won’t have to contend with outside noise so you can listen to your music at lower levels.


The normal earbuds that come with devices such as iPhones are much maligned for their poor quality of sound, but because they come along with your phone lots of people still use them. Specifically, with newer Apple phones, it’s just easier to use the earbuds that were provided with the device because it most likely won’t have a headphone jack.

The downside, in addition to the poor sound quality, is that basic earbuds don’t cancel outside sounds, so you’re more likely to crank up the sound level. It’s generally thought that sticking earbuds so close to your eardrum is the main concern but it’s really the volume.

Earbuds That Block Outside Noise

Lots of people choose earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfy than normal earbuds and better at stopping outside noises. The rubber molds to the shape of your ear, creating a seal that blocks other noises from entering. But these earbuds can also block out noises you might need to hear and loud volume is still the primary concern. Obviously, these won’t work for you if you wear hearing aids.

You may need to check out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that do the job. Your expectations, acoustically, will differ depending on what type of usage you normally give them. The relevant thing is to seek out headphones that make it comfortable for you to enjoy at a safe and secure sound level.

How to be Certain Your Hearing is Safeguarded

Is it Safe, How Can I be certain? If you own 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 other apps out there, but research has discovered that the reliability of these other apps is spotty (in addition, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have proven to be less accurate). That motivated NIOSH to create their own app. You can measure outside sounds using the app, but sounds coming out of your device’s speakers can be measured too, so you will know exactly how much volume your ears are getting. It’s a little bit of work, but taking these types of protective measures can help protect your hearing.

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