Knowing you should protect your hearing is one thing. It’s another matter to know when to safeguard your ears. It’s not as easy as, for example, determining when to wear sunblock. (Is it sunny and will you be outdoors? Then you need sunscreen.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is simpler (Working with dangerous chemicals? Doing some construction? You need to wear eye protection).
When dealing with when to wear hearing protection, there seems to be a huge grey area which can be risky. Unless we have specific information that some place or activity is hazardous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the problem altogether.
A Tale of Risk Assessment
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as lasting hearing problems or loss of hearing. To demonstrate the situation, check out some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. 3 hours is approximately how long the concert lasts.
- Person B has a landscaping business. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might believe the hearing hazard is higher for person A (let’s just call her Ann). Ann leaves the concert with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, struggling to hear herself talk. It seems reasonable to presume that Ann’s activity was very hazardous.
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 must be safer for her hearing, right? Not really. Because Betty is mowing all day. In reality, the damage builds up a little at a time despite the fact that they don’t ring out. If experienced every day, even moderately loud sounds can have a negative affect on your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less evident. Most individuals realize that you should protect your hearing while using machines like a lawnmower. But although Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute through the city every day is rather loud. Also, even though 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 Begin to Think About Safeguarding Your Ears?
In general, you need to turn the volume down if you have to shout to be heard. And if your surroundings are that loud, you need to think about using earplugs or earmuffs.
So to put this a bit more scientifically, you should use 85dB as your limit. Sounds above 85dB have the capacity, over time, to lead to damage, so you should think about using ear protection in those conditions.
Many hearing specialists recommend using a specialized app to monitor decibel levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the required steps to protect your ears because these apps will inform you when the sound is approaching 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 everywhere you go. So a few examples of when to safeguard your ears might help you formulate a good standard. Here we go:
- Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or maybe you’re riding the subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The constant noise of living in the city, when experienced for 6-8 hours a day, can cause injury to your hearing over the long term, especially if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the din.
- Operating Power Tools: You recognize that working all day at your factory job will require ear protection. But what if you’re just puttering around your garage all day? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists recommend wearing hearing protection if you’re using power equipment.
- Domestic Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously mentioned, calls for hearing protection. Chores, like mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can cause hearing impairment.
- Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or maybe your evening Pilates session? You might consider using hearing protection to each. The high volume from trainers who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t require protection but does require caution. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re listening to it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a great choice to avoid having to turn the volume way up.
A strong baseline may be established by these examples. If there is any doubt, however, wear protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them exposed to possible injury in the future. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.