It’s one thing to recognize that you need to safeguard your hearing. It’s a different story to know when to safeguard your hearing. It’s not as easy as, for example, recognizing when to wear sunblock. (Are you going to go outside? Is the sun out? You need to be using sunblock.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is easier (Doing some hammering? Cutting some wood or working with dangerous chemicals? Use eye protection).
It can feel like there’s a significant grey area when dealing with when to use hearing protection, and that can be risky. Often, we’ll defer to our normal inclination to avoid hearing protection unless we have information that a particular activity or place is dangerous.
Assessing The Risks
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as damage to the ears or the probability of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. To prove the point, check out some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts roughly 3 hours.
- Person B runs a landscaping business. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You may think the hearing danger is greater for person A (let’s just call her Ann). For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud show. It seems fair to assume that Ann’s recreation was very risky.
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 her hearing must be safer, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing all day. Actually, the damage accumulates a little at a time although they don’t ring out. Even moderate noise, if experienced regularly, can damage your ears.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less obvious. Lawnmowers have instructions that point out the hazards of ongoing exposure to noise. But despite the fact that Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute on the train every day is rather loud. In addition, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to think about protection?
When is it Time to Begin to Consider About Safeguarding Your Hearing?
Generally speaking, you need to turn the volume down if you have to shout to be heard. And you really should consider using earplugs or earmuffs if your environment is that noisy.
The limit should be 85dB if you want to be clinical. Noises above 85dB have the ability, over time, to cause damage, so in those situation, you need to think about wearing ear protection.
Your ears don’t have their own sound level meter to warn you when you reach that 85dB level, so many hearing professionals recommend downloading special apps for your phone. You will be capable of taking the correct steps to protect your ears because these apps will inform you when the sound is getting to a hazardous level.
A Few Examples
Even if you do get 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 may help you develop a good baseline. Here we go:
- Household Chores: Even mowing a lawn, as previously stated, calls for hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can cause hearing damage.
- Exercise: Your morning cycling class is a good example. Or maybe your daily elliptical session. All of these examples could call for hearing protection. Those instructors who make use of microphones and sound systems (and loud music) to motivate you might be good for your heart rate, but all that loudness is bad for your hearing.
- Using Power Tools: You understand you will need hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But how about the enthusiast building in his garage? Most hearing specialists will suggest you wear hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist basis.
- 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 listening to it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Consider getting headphones that cancel out outside sound so you don’t need to turn up the volume to hazardous levels.
- Driving & Commuting: Driving all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re riding the subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your hearing, not to mention the extra injury caused by cranking up your music to drown out the city noise.
These illustrations might give you a good baseline. If there is any doubt, though, use protection. Compared to leaving your ears exposed to future harm, in most cases, it’s better to protect your ears. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.