You ever go to the beach and see one of those “Beware of Shark” warning signs? It’s not hard to realize that you shouldn’t disregard a caution like that. A warning like that (especially if written in large, red letters) may even make you reconsider your swim altogether. But people don’t tend to pay attention to cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Current studies have found that millions of people disregard warning signs regarding their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global concern, though these studies were exclusively done in the United Kingdom). Knowledge is a big part of the issue. It’s fairly intuitive to be afraid of sharks. But most people don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And the real question is, what’s too loud?
We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Noises
It isn’t only the machine shop floor or rock concert that are dangerous to your ears (not to minimize the hearing hazards of these scenarios). There are potential risks with many every-day sounds. That’s because it isn’t just the volume of a sound that presents a danger; it’s also how long you’re exposed. Even lower-level sounds, like dense city traffic, can be damaging to your ears if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.
Broadly speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this sound level. At this level, there won’t be any limit to how long you can safely be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and a lawnmower are at this level of sound. This volume will usually become damaging after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. This amount of exposure becomes dangerous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: An oncoming subway train or a mid-sized sports event are at this volume (of course, this depends on the city). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up to max? That’s normally around this volume on most smartphones. 5 minutes will be enough to be dangerous at this level.
- 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock show or extremely large sports events) can result in immediate damage and pain in your ears.
How Loud is 85 dB?
In general, you’re hearing is in peril when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or above. The problem is that it’s not always clear just how loud 85 dB is. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.
And hearing warnings often get neglected for this reason specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of potential solutions:
- Download an app: Your ears can’t be immediately protected with an app. But there are several free apps that can work as sound level monitors. Injury to your hearing can happen without you recognizing it because it’s hard to recognize just how loud 85 dB feels. The answer, then, is to have this app working and monitor the sound levels near you. This can help you establish a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (Or, the app will simply tell you when things get too loud).
- Sufficient signage and training: This applies to workspaces, in particular. Signage and training can help reinforce the significant risks of hearing loss (and the benefits of hearing protection). Signage could also let you know just how loud your workspace is. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is needed or suggested.
When in Doubt: Protect
No signage or app will ever be flawless. So when in doubt, take the time to safeguard your hearing. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing problems. And it’s easier than ever to damage your ears (it’s a simple matter of listening to your music too loudly).
You shouldn’t raise the volume past half way, particularly if you’re listening all day. You require noise blocking headphones if you are constantly cranking up the volume to block out background noise.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to identify when loud becomes too loud. Increasing your own understanding and recognition is the key if you want to do that. Safeguarding your ears, wearing ear protection, or reducing your exposure, is not that difficult. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
That should be easier nowadays, too. That’s even more accurate now that you have some awareness.
Think you could have hearing loss? Make an appointment.