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Volume knob set to a safe level that won't harm your hearing.

Have you ever gone to the beach and noticed one of those “Beware of Shark” signs? It’s easy to realize that you shouldn’t disregard a warning like that. You may even reconsider swimming at all with a sign like that (if the sign is written in big red letters that’s especially true). For some reason, though, it’s harder for people to heed warnings about their hearing in the same way.

Recent studies have found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s little doubt that this is a global problem, though these studies were exclusively conducted in the United Kingdom). Knowledge is a huge part of the problem. It’s pretty instinctive to be scared of sharks. But fear of loud noise? And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Hazardously Loud Sounds

It’s not just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your hearing (although both of those venues are, indeed, dangerous to your hearing). Many every-day sounds can be hazardous. That’s because the duration of sound is as dangerous as the volume. Even low-level noises, like dense city traffic, can be damaging to your hearing if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.

Read on to find out when sound gets 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: This is the sound level of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioning unit. This volume will usually become harmful after two hours of exposure.
  • 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. This amount of exposure gets hazardous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you may encounter at a mid-size sporting event or an approaching subway train (of course, this depends on the city). This level of sound can become hazardous after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever cranked your Spotify music up to max volume? On most smartphones, that’s about this level. This amount of exposure becomes dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock show or exceptionally large sports events) can bring about immediate injury and pain in your ears.

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

In general, you’re in the danger zone when you’re experiencing any sound 85 dB or louder. The issue is that it’s not always obvious just how loud 85 dB is. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.

And hearing cautions often go ignored for this reason when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is especially true. Here are a couple of possible solutions:

  • Download an app: Your hearing can’t be immediately protected with an app. But there are a few sound level metering apps. Damage to your ears can happen without you recognizing it because it’s hard to recognize just how loud 85 dB feels. The solution, then, is to have this app open and keep track of the sound levels near you. This will help you develop a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (Or, the app will simply tell you when things get too noisy).
  • Adequate training and signage: This particularly relates to workspaces. Signage and training can help reinforce the significant risks of hearing loss (and the benefits of hearing protection). Signage could also make it clear just how loud your workspace is. Helping employees know when hearing protection is recommended or necessary with proper training can be really helpful.

When in Doubt: Protect

No signage or app will ever be flawless. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to safeguard your ears. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can lead to hearing loss. And it’s easier than it ever has been to injure your ears (all you need to do is turn your earpods up a little too high).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not turn up the volume past the half way. You need noise blocking headphones if you are continually turning up the volume to block out background noise.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to accept it. And to do this, you need to increase your own awareness and knowledge level. Safeguarding your ears, wearing ear protection, or reducing your exposure, is pretty simple. That starts with a little knowledge of when you should do it.

Today that should also be easier. That’s even more relevant now that you have some insight.

Schedule a hearing examination right away if you think you may be suffering from hearing loss.

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