I use noise isolating in ear headphones while working. I am considering instituting "music breaks" to reduce risks related to hearing loss.

A 10-20 minute review of websites haven't really given me anything better than "breaks". Before diving into papers I thought I'd ask here.

What sort of regime is optimal? Is there something that gives me a good 80/20 payoff?

Example regimens:

  • 1 minute of complete silence via earplugs every 30 minutes
  • 5 minutes of complete silence via every hour

Separately, is there a meaningful difference between music / talking / white noise in terms of risk of hearing loss? How much better is complete silence than mere quiet?

The lack of clearer advice from healthcare source makes me suspect that no one really knows.

Related: When does the use of headphones become harmful?

  • Are you concerned about damage to the outer ear, noise induced hearing loss, sound deprivation, or something else?
    – StrongBad
    May 8, 2017 at 16:33
  • Noise induced hearing loss (I will update the title, appropriately)
    – Att Righ
    May 8, 2017 at 16:39

1 Answer 1


Using noise isolating headphones poses no additional risks beyond regular headphones. Using high quality headphones poses no additional risks beyond wearing hearing aids, and in fact the materials are often the same. The risk of prolonged listening is overall exposure. There are a who bunch of standards for calculating the overall noise exposure dose. This a a nice online calculator.

There is no standard that makes use of breaks. The goal of the standards is to limit your total exposure. As an example, with OSHA, you can be exposed to 90 dBA for 8 hours and 79 dBA for 16 hours. It doesn't care you the 90 dBA period is divided. In other words, OSHA does not care if you take breaks.

That said, there is not a strong evidence base supporting the standards. As I said in this answer of mine, hidden hearing loss is an active area of research. The focus of the research is predominately on non-maximal noise doses. I am not aware of any research looking at the effects of breaks on maximal, or non-maximal, noise doses.

As i said in my other answer, What is known is that there is no way to reverse hearing loss. There is no pill you can take. While hearing aids do restore some level of hearing, you should take care of your ears. If possible, you should stay well below a maximal noise dose.

If you listen to your music at 80 dBA for 16 hours a day with 8 hours of quite at night, that is a 50% noise dose based on OSHA. This is the action level, where an employer would be forced to institute a hearing conservation program. You should attempt to stay even further below this.

  • Interesting... I was targeting breaks as a straightforward intervention that would be easy to apply. Monitoring my daily noise dose seems like it might be quite complicated, are there suggestions for how to achieve this?
    – Att Righ
    May 8, 2017 at 19:25
  • @AttRigh yes, but 80 dB is quite loud. If you are comfortable with low level music (e.g., 60 dB), the standards would say you can do that all day long.
    – StrongBad
    May 8, 2017 at 19:28
  • Thanks for the advice... I'm not sure I even know how to work out the noise level of my headphones in dB without some research, or whether I should take background noise into account or how I would do this given the noise isolation :/. I think I should perhaps rephrase a more general question.
    – Att Righ
    May 8, 2017 at 19:49

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