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Preventing Hearing Loss While Gaming With Headphones and Earbuds

Written by: Jasmine Chiam
gaming headset hearing loss damage

Turning up the volume feels almost automatic. Perhaps you’d like to hear those footsteps clearer for a competitive upper edge. Maybe having a headset on at a louder volume makes the game more immersive and enjoyable. Or you could just really be into that Stardew Valley soundtrack.

Many of us game with headphones or earbuds, and it’s no wonder why.

But could using headphones or earbuds actually lead to hearing damage? 

In this article, we’ll explore whether gaming with a headset could lead to hearing damage and how you can effectively protect your ears while gaming.

Are Headphones or Earbuds Bad for your Ears?

These gadgets aren’t inherently bad. But they can lead to hearing loss and damage if you regularly have them on at high volumes or use them for extended amounts of time [1].

This applies even to the best gaming headset, regardless if they are open-back, closed-back, in-ear , or noise-canceling – unhealthy listening habits can damage your hearing in the long run.

Also, it’s good to realize that the type of sound doesn’t matter. As soon as the threshold is surpassed—be it with a Mario jump or PUBG gunshots—you’re putting your hearing at risk. Of course, some games like FPS shooter games are likely to cross this threshold more often compared to more laid-back types of games.

One of the most common esports injuries is tinnitus, often described as buzzing, ringing, or humming in the ears. And many people don’t realize that gaming with a high volume or using headsets for prolonged periods will increase the risk of experiencing tinnitus and hearing loss.

Though tinnitus and hearing damage cannot be cured, the good news is that these conditions are highly preventable.

How can Headsets Affect your Hearing?

Your ear is divided into three main sections—the outer, middle, and inner ear. Loud noises can cause damage to the hairs and nerve cells of the cochlea (inner ear), which affects how sound signals are sent to your brain [2].

Hearing loss can occur from a single sound or gradually over a period of time. For gamers, repeated exposure to loud sounds from video games can affect your hearing. And with headsets, the source of the sound is much closer to your eardrums—especially with in-ear earbuds.

Many gamers don’t realize that the volume they game with is gradually damaging their hearing. It can begin with something as simple as upping the volume to hear footsteps better for a competitive advantage. As your ears acclimatize to loud noises, you would have to raise the volume further. And the cycle repeats.

Contrary to popular belief, hearing problems aren’t only limited to those of advanced age. Younger people can experience similar issues as well [3].

However, there are many practical ways you can protect and preserve your hearing while gaming with headphones.

How to Use Earphones Without Damaging Ears

How loud is loud? Well, noises above 70dB can cause damage over time, while a loud noise above 120dB can cause immediate damage [4]. For context, a normal conversation is around 60dB.

Of course, we can’t accurately measure the volume of sound entering our ears when using headphones. But there are some practical ways you can avoid crossing this threshold to keep your eardrums safe.

#1 Change your gear.

In-ear earbuds are most likely to cause hearing damage because the sound is funneled directly into your ear canal. Research has also found that open and semi-open earphones are less likely to cause hearing damage compared to closed-back or in-ear ones [5].

Noise-canceling earphones may also be a safer choice, as you won’t have to turn up the volume as much to counter surrounding noises and sounds [6].

#2 Lower the volume.

It doesn’t have to hurt for it to be causing damage to your ears.

So, as counter-intuitive as this may be, it may be time to turn the volume down a few notches, even if things seem perfectly fine. What’s a safe volume, though?

Well, you can adopt the 60/60 rule:

  • No more than 60 minutes of earphone use at one time.
  • No more than 60% of the maximum volume

You can also carry out this small test: Bring your headphones about an arm’s length away from you, and if you can hear each spoken word, it may be time to dock off a few decibels.

Noise-canceling earphones may also be useful to block out environmental noises, so you can still catch those sneaky footsteps without having to crank up the volume.

#3 Take a break.

We’ve all gotten caught up with gaming. Whether it’s “one last” Elden Ring boss to solo or “one last” match to rank up—your ears need a break.

Understandably, if you’re an esports professional, training sessions may go on for hours. Whenever possible, take a break from gaming and give your ears some time to recover. Or simply turn down the volume when you can.

And of course, you can alternate between speaker and headphones use. Gaming with speakers has its own charm, too.

How to Protect your Hearing during Tournaments

This may be a little tricky. And it will depend on your team, tournament, and sponsors. Some tournaments will have noise-free booths set up, but this isn’t always the case.

If you’re an esports athlete, you likely use two pairs during competitions; one set of earbuds and one set of noise-canceling earphones or earmuffs, so you won’t have to crank the volume of your earbuds too high up to hear things properly. Some players also play white noise through the noise-canceling pair to further minimize any distractions from the roaring crowd or callouts by game casters.

And, of course, if you experience symptoms such as muffled sounds and buzzing or ringing in your ear, it’s best to get it checked out by your doctor as soon as possible.


Hearing damage and tinnitus can affect gamers who regularly use headphones or earbuds while gaming. You can prevent them by minimizing the volume you game with and reducing the time spent using these gadgets.

Ultimately, it isn’t worthwhile gaming at the cost of your hearing. Take all the precautions you can, and your eardrums will thank you in the long run.

Disclaimer: This is an educational post on how you can protect your hearing as a gamer. It should not substitute the advice of your healthcare professional. EsportsHeadlines.com and the author of this post disclaim any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, as it is not meant for diagnostic or treatment purposes.