It’s one thing to know that you need to safeguard your ears. Recognizing when to protect your ears is another matter. It’s more challenging than, for instance, recognizing when you need sunscreen. (Is it sunny and will you be outside? Then you need sunblock.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is easier (Handling dangerous chemicals? Doing some construction? You need eye protection).
It can feel like there’s a large grey area when addressing when to wear hearing protection, and that can be risky. Unless we have particular information that some activity or place is hazardous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the problem entirely.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as long term hearing problems or loss of hearing. Here are some examples to demonstrate the situation:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts around 3 hours.
- Person B has a landscaping business. She spends a significant amount of time mowing lawns, then goes home to a quiet house and reads.
- Person C works in an office.
You might think the hearing hazard is greater for person A (let’s just call her Ann). Ann leaves the performance with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, trying to hear herself speak. Presuming Ann’s activity was risky to her ears would be sensible.
Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. There’s no ringing in her ears. So it has to be safer for her ears, right? Well, not quite. Because Betty is pushing that mower all day. So even though her ears never ring out with pain, the injury builds up gradually. If experienced too often, even moderately loud noises can have a negative affect on your ears.
What’s occurring with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even harder to make sense of. Lawnmowers come with instructions that point out the dangers of long-term exposure to noise. But even though Chris works in a quiet office, she has a very noisy, hour-long commute every day on the train. Additionally, although she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to consider protection?
When is it Time to be Concerned About Safeguarding Your Ears?
In general, you need to turn the volume down if you have to shout to be heard. And if your environment is that loud, you really should consider wearing earmuffs or earplugs.
The cutoff should be 85dB if you want to be scientific. Sounds above 85dB have the potential to result in damage over time, so in those scenarios, you should think about wearing ear protection.
Your ears don’t have a built-in sound level meter to warn you when you reach that 85dB level, so countless hearing specialists recommend downloading special apps for your phone. You will be capable of taking the required steps to safeguard your ears because these apps will inform you when the sound is reaching a harmful level.
A Few Examples
Your phone might not be with you anywhere you go even if you do download the app. So we may develop a good baseline with a few examples of when to protect our ears. Here we go:
- Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re just hanging around downtown for work or boarding the train. The constant noise of city living, when experienced for between 6 and 8 hours a day, can cause damage to your hearing over the long term, especially if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the din.
- Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or perhaps your daily elliptical session. You might think about using hearing protection to each. 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 loudness is bad for your hearing.
- Working With Power Tools: You understand that working every day at your factory job is going to call for hearing protection. But what if you’re just puttering around your garage all day? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists recommend wearing hearing protection if you’re utilizing power equipment.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, more than protection. Give consideration to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s going directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a smart choice to avoid having to turn the volume way up.
- Every day Chores: We already discussed how something as straightforward as mowing the lawn, when done frequently, can necessitate hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can cause hearing damage.
A strong baseline may be researched by these examples. When in doubt, however, you should choose protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them exposed to possible damage down the road. Protect today, hear tomorrow.