How to Protect Your Ears From Loud Music

Woman enjoying music with headphones but protecting her hearing.

Individuals who work in loud settings like 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, recreation-related noise exposure can be harmful, also. What type of exposure are we dealing with? Loud sounds heard through headphones, whether it’s gaming, streaming video, music, or even an audiobook with the volume cranked up.

You might not think your smartphone or tablet can go that loud. But these devices can reach sustained volumes of over 105 dB, which is around the normal human pain threshold. This is the volume at which noise starts to literally hurt your ears. So what’s the solution for protecting your ears against volume related injury.

The volume level here is important. Listen with the volume at or below 60% for 60 minutes or less each session (how long you listen for also matters), this is called the 60/60 rule.

Make a Setting on Your Hearing Aids For Listening to Music

If you use hearing aids, you’re more than likely streaming your mobile device directly to your hearing aids, so be certain 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 ask us about that also. If you’re a musician or real music aficionado you might have noticed that most hearing aids are created to sharpen the clarity of voices…not necessarily music. We may be able to make adjustments to minimize feedback and noise while increasing some frequency to enhance the quality of sound when listening to music.

How to Select The Right Headphones

When getting headphones there are lots of options, particularly if you use hearing aids. There are various things to consider, though it’s generally a matter of personal choice.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

While the foam-covered earpieces that came with your old Walkman are basically a thing of the past, over-the-ear headphones have had a resurgence. Often unexpectedly expensive, they provide a large variety of color options and celebrity endorsements, and of course, better sound quality. And unlike those little foam pads, these cover the entire ear, blocking outside sounds.

Conventional wisdom is that these are safer than in-ear headphones because the source of the sound is further away from your eardrum. But because the speakers are bigger they are often capable of much higher sound level. Noise cancellation can be a good thing as long as you’re not missing out on important sounds like an oncoming automobile. That said, because they cancel out outside sound, you can normally lower the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not loud enough to hurt your hearing.


The normal earbuds are widely known for poor quality of sound, even though lots of people still use them because hey, they were included with the phone. Specifically, with newer Apple phones, it’s just easier to use the earbuds that came with the device because it probably doesn’t have a headphone jack.

The drawback, besides the inferior sound quality, is that basic earbuds can’t block outside noises, so you’re more likely to pump up the volume. Once again,, though it’s frequently said that earbuds are problematic because you put them into your ear so their speakers are very close to your eardrum, volume is the biggest concern.

Noise Blocking Earbuds

A lot 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 stops outside noise from getting in is formed by the rubber tip which molds to the shape of the ear. Not to sound like a broken record, but these have the same downsides 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 might have to try out quite a few pairs before you find headphones that are what you are looking for. Your expectations, acoustically, will differ depending on what kind of use you normally give them. Enjoying your music at a healthy volume and finding headphones that help you do that is essential.

How to be Certain Your Hearing is Protected

How can you be certain it’s safe? 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. You can get different apps, but studies has discovered that the accuracy of these other apps is hit-and-miss (additionally, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have proven less accurate). That motivated NIOSH to create an app of their own. You can measure outside sounds with the app, but sounds coming from your device’s speakers can also be measured, so you will find out precisely how much volume your ears are subjected to. You have to put in a little effort, but putting in place these types of protective 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.