Hear in Edmonton - Edmonton, Alberta

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 affected by noise related loss of hearing. Recreation associated noise exposure can be just as dangerous as work related noise exposure. The most prevalent type? Music, gaming, streaming video or anything that you would listen to through headphones or earbuds.

You might not realize your smartphone or tablet can get that loud. But these devices can achieve sustained volumes of over 105 dB, which is near the ordinary human pain threshold. This is the volume at which noise begins to literally hurt your ears. So what’s the plan to protect against this sort of noise-related hearing loss?

The volume level here is essential. An easy 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 Music

If you use hearing aids, you’re likely streaming your device directly to your hearing aids, so be certain the volume is not too high or that you’re not attempting to drown out other sounds with your music. In addition, consult us about how best to listen to music. Hearing aids aren’t made to increase the quality of music like they do with voices so if really like music, you may have observed this. We may be able to change the configuration to minimize feedback and noise while boosting some frequency ranges to improve the quality of sound when listening to music.

How to Pick The Right Headphones

If you don’t wear hearing aids, there are many options for shopping for headphones. There are a few things to consider, though it’s generally a matter of personal preference.

Over-the-Ear Headphones

While the foam-covered earpieces that came with your old Walkman are generally no longer used, over-the-ear headphones have had a resurgence. They have a lot of choices in color and style, are usually endorsed by celebrities, and can be surprisingly pricey. And unlike those little foam pads, these go over the entire ear, blocking outside sounds.

Conventional perception 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 larger they are commonly capable of much louder volume. Also, noise-canceling might help you ignore the crying baby on your flight, but in other situations, it can silence sounds you should hear (like a car honking). With that being said, because they cancel out outside noise, you can typically reduce the volume of what you’re listening to so it’s not loud enough to cause damage to your ears.


The standard earbuds that come with devices such as iPhones are much maligned for their poor sound quality, but because they come along with your phone many people still use them. Particularly, with newer Apple devices, it’s simply easier to use the earbuds that were provided with the device because it probably won’t have a headphone jack.

Earbuds also don’t cancel out sound so the downside is, you have a tendency to crank up the volume. Again, though it’s often said that earbuds are problematic because you put them into your ear so their speakers are extremely close to your eardrum, actually volume is the biggest problem.

Noise Canceling Earbuds

Many people buy earbuds with a rounded, rubbery tip both because they’re more comfortable than traditional earbuds and better at stopping outside noises. A seal that stops outside sound 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 drawbacks as the other two (volume is the main problem), as well as carrying the same caution as over-the-ear headphones (they can block out warning sounds). And if you wear hearing aids, clearly these won’t work for you.

A number of pairs may need to be tested before you find headphones that are right for you. Your expectations, acoustically, will be different depending on what kind of use you usually give them. The relevant thing is to seek out headphones that make it comfortable for you to listen at a safe volume.

How to be Sure Your Hearing is Safeguarded

Is it Safe, How Can I be Sure? If you have 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 out there, but research has found that the reliability of these other apps is spotty (additionally, for reasons yet unknown, Android-based apps have been shown to be less reliable). That motivated NIOSH to develop an app of their own. The app allows you to measure external noises, but it’s also possible to measure the sound coming from your device’s speakers, so you will find out precisely how much volume your ears are getting. It’s a little bit of effort, but taking these types of protective measures can help protect your hearing.

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