It’s one thing to know that you need to safeguard your ears. Recognizing when to safeguard your ears is another matter. It’s more difficult than, let’s say, knowing when you need sunscreen. (Are you going outdoors? Is there sunlight? You need to be using sunscreen.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is simpler (Using a hammer? Working with a saw or dangerous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
It can feel like there’s a huge grey area when addressing when to use ear protection, and that can be risky. Unless we have particular information that some activity or place is dangerous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the problem altogether.
Assessing The Risks
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as injury to the ears or the risk of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. To demonstrate the situation, here are some examples:
- Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is approximately the length of the concert.
- Person B has a landscaping business. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You may presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) might be in more hearing danger. For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud show. Presuming Ann’s activity was risky to her hearing would be reasonable.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. There’s no ringing in her ears. So it has to be less hazardous for her ears, right? Not really. Because Betty is mowing all day. So even though her ears never ring out with pain, the harm accrues slowly. If experienced too often, even moderately loud noises can have a harmful affect on your ears.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Most individuals understand that you should protect your hearing while running equipment such as a lawnmower. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute every day through the city. What’s more, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to give some thought to protection?
When is it Time to Start Thinking About Safeguarding Your Hearing?
Generally speaking, you should turn the volume down if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And you really should think about using earplugs or earmuffs if your environment is that noisy.
So to put this a little more scientifically, you need to use 85dB as your cutoff. Noises above 85dB have the ability to cause damage over time, so you should give consideration to using ear protection in those scenarios.
Your ears don’t have a built-in sound level meter to warn you when you get to that 85dB level, so most hearing specialists recommend obtaining specialized apps for your phone. You will be capable of taking the necessary steps to safeguard your ears because these apps will inform you when the sound is reaching a harmful level.
A Few Examples
Your phone may not be with you anywhere you go even if you do download the app. So a few examples of when to protect your ears may help you formulate a good standard. Here we go:
- Using Power Tools: You recognize you will need hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But how about the hobbyist building in his garage? Most hearing specialists will suggest you use hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist basis.
- Every day Chores: We already mentioned how something as straightforward as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can call for hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great illustration of the sort of household chore that could cause damage to your hearing but that you most likely don’t think about all that often.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require care. Whether your music is going directly into your ears, how loud it is playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you need to pay attention to. Consider getting headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t need to turn up the sound to dangerous levels.
- Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re just hanging around downtown for work or boarding the subway. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your hearing, not to mention the added damage caused by cranking up your music to drown out the city noise.
- Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or maybe your daily elliptical session. You might think about using hearing protection to each one. Those trainers who make use of sound systems and microphones (and loud music) to motivate you may be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your ears.
A strong baseline might be researched by these examples. If there is any doubt, though, use protection. In the majority of cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them subject to possible harm down the road. Protect today, hear tomorrow.