It’s one thing to recognize that you need to protect your hearing. Recognizing when to safeguard your ears is a different story. It’s not as simple as, for example, knowing when to use sunscreen. (Is it sunny and will you be outdoors? Then you need sunscreen.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is simpler (Using a hammer? Cutting some wood or working with dangerous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
It can feel like there’s a huge grey area when addressing when to use hearing protection, and that can be risky. Usually, we’ll defer to our normal inclination to avoid hearing protection unless we have information that a specific activity or place is dangerous.
Determining 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 possibility of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. Here are some examples to demonstrate the situation:
- Person A attends a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is about how long the concert lasts.
- A landscaping business is run by person B. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You might think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) might be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the performance with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, struggling to hear herself speak. It seems reasonable to presume that Ann’s activity was rather hazardous.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is exposed to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be less hazardous for her hearing, right? Well, not really. Because Betty is mowing every day. So even though her ears never ring out with pain, the injury builds up bit by bit. If experienced too often, even moderately loud noise can have a damaging affect on your hearing.
What’s going on with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even harder to make sense of. Lawnmowers come with instructions that indicate the hazards of persistent exposure to noise. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a very noisy, hour-long commute every day through the city. Additionally, while she works at her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should think about?
When is it Time to be Concerned About Protecting Your Ears?
Normally, you should turn down the volume if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And if your surroundings are that loud, you really should think about wearing earplugs or earmuffs.
The limit needs to be 85dB if you want to get clinical. Sounds above 85dB have the ability to cause injury over time, so in those circumstances, you need to consider using hearing protection.
Your ears don’t have a built-in sound level meter to alert you when you reach that 85dB level, so many hearing professionals recommend downloading specialized apps for your phone. You will be able to take the necessary steps to safeguard your ears because these apps will inform you when the sound is getting to a dangerous volume.
A Few Examples
Even if you do download that app and bring it with you, your phone may not be with you wherever you go. So we may establish a good standard with a few examples of when to safeguard our ears. Here we go:
- Every day Chores: We already discussed how something as basic as mowing the lawn, when done frequently, can call for hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing impairment.
- Operating Power Tools: You know that working all day at your factory job will call for ear protection. But what if you’re just working in your garage all day? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists suggest wearing hearing protection if you’re working with power equipment.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one requires caution, more than protection. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re listening to it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Think about using headphones that cancel out outside sound so you don’t have to turn up the volume to dangerous levels.
- Commuting and Driving: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re just hanging around downtown for work or getting on the train. The constant noise of living in the city, when experienced for between 6 and 8 hours every day, can cause injury to your hearing over the long term, particularly if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the commotion.
- Exercise: Your morning spin class is a perfect example. Or even your evening workout session? Each of these cases may require ear protection. The loud volume from trainers who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your hearing.
These examples might give you a suitable baseline. If there is any doubt, though, wear protection. Compared to leaving your ears exposed to future damage, in most cases, it’s better to protect your hearing. Protect today, hear tomorrow.