How to Safeguard Your Ears From Loud Music

Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Noise-related hearing loss doesn’t only impact people who work in loud surroundings, like construction workers or heavy metal roadies. It doesn’t even have to be work-related, recreation-related noise exposure can be harmful, also. The most common type? Loud sounds heard through headphones, whether it’s gaming, streaming video, music, or even an audiobook with the volume turned up.

You might not think your smartphone or tablet can get that loud. But these devices can reach continuous volumes of over 105 dB, which is near the normal human pain threshold. This is the volume at which noise starts to literally cause pain in your ears. So what can you do to safeguard against this type of noise-related loss of hearing?

The volume level here is important. An easy shorthand that’s widely recommended is the 60/60 rule: Listen with the volume at no more than 60% for 60 minutes or less at a stretch (because the length of sound exposure matters, too).

Your Hearing Aids Can be Set up For Music

If you have hearing aids, you’re more than likely streaming your device directly to your hearing aids, so be sure the volume is not too loud or that you’re not trying to drown out other sounds with your music. And there are more appropriate ways to listen to music so consult us about that also. If you’re a musician or someone who loves music you might have recognized that most hearing aids are programmed to sharpen the quality of voices…not necessarily music. We might be able to change the configuration to reduce noise and feedback while maximizing some frequency ranges to improve the quality of sound when listening to music.

Picking out Headphones

When picking out headphones there are lots of options, specifically if you use hearing aids. There are a few things to think about, even though it’s largely a matter of personal preference.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

While the foam-covered earpieces that was included with your old Walkman are basically no longer used, over-the-ear headphones have made a comeback. Often unexpectedly pricey, they feature a large variety of color possibilities and celebrity endorsements, and of course, exceptional sound quality. And these headphones cover the whole ear stopping out noise, unlike those old foam ones.

Main-stream wisdom 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 larger they are commonly capable of much louder sound level. In addition, noise-canceling will probably help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other scenarios, it can silence sounds you need to hear (such as a car honking). That said, because they block out outside sound, you can often decrease the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not loud enough to hurt your ears.


The standard earbuds that come with devices like iPhones are much maligned for their inferior sound quality, even though a lot of people still use them because hey, they came with the phone. In addition, with newer versions that no longer have a headphone jack, sticking with Apple’s earbuds can just be easier.

Earbuds also don’t block out noise so the downside is, you tend to turn up the volume. It’s generally believed that placing earbuds so close to your eardrum is the primary issue but it’s actually the volume.

Noise Blocking Earbuds

Lots of people opt for earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfy than normal earbuds and better at blocking outside sounds. A seal that blocks outside sound 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 need to hear and volume is still the biggest problem. Needless to say, these won’t work for you if you use hearing aids.

A number of pairs will probably need to be tested before you find headphones that are what you are looking for. Depending on what you regularly use them for say talking on the phone, versus listening to music, you’ll have unique acoustic requirements. The important thing is to seek out headphones that make it comfortable for you to enjoy at a safe and secure volume.

Don’t Cut Corners When it Comes to Your Hearing

How can you be sure it’s okay? There’s an app for that…If you use a smartphone, 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 research has found that the accuracy of these other apps is hit-and-miss (additionally, for whatever reason, Android-based apps have been shown less reliable). That prompted NIOSH to create their own app. The app allows you to measure external sounds, but sounds coming out of your device’s speakers can be measured too, in other words, the true volume of what’s going to your ears. It’s a little bit of effort, but taking these kinds of preventative measures 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.