It’s one thing to know that you should protect your ears. Recognizing when to safeguard your ears is another matter. It’s more challenging than, for example, knowing when you need sunblock. (Is the sun out and will you be outside? Then you need sunscreen.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is simpler (Handling hazardous chemicals? Doing some construction? You need to wear eye protection).
It can feel like there’s a large grey area when addressing when to use hearing protection, and that can be risky. Unless we have particular knowledge that some place or activity is dangerous we tend to take the easy path which is to avoid the issue altogether.
A Tale of Risk Analysis
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. Here are some examples to demonstrate the situation:
- Person A attends a very loud rock concert. The concert lasts about 3 hours.
- A landscaping company is run by person B. She spends a significant amount of time mowing lawns, then goes home to a quiet house and reads a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You might believe the hearing hazard is higher for person A (let’s just call her Ann). For most of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud performance. It seems fair to presume that Ann’s recreation was quite risky.
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 must be safer for her hearing, right? Well, not quite. Because Betty is mowing every day. So even though her ears never ring out with pain, the damage builds up little by little. Even moderate noise, if experienced with enough frequency, can damage your hearing.
What’s occurring with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even more difficult to sort out. The majority of people recognize that you should protect your ears while running machines like a lawnmower. But even though Chris works in a quiet office, she has a very noisy, hour-long commute each day on the train. Additionally, while she works at her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should consider?
When is it Time to Worry About Safeguarding Your Hearing?
In general, you need to turn the volume down if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And you need to think about wearing earplugs or earmuffs if your surroundings are that loud.
The limit needs to be 85dB if you want to get clinical. Sounds above 85dB have the potential, over time, to cause injury, so you need to think about wearing ear protection in those circumstances.
Most hearing professionals suggest getting a specialized app to monitor decibel levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the appropriate steps to safeguard your hearing because these apps will inform you when the sound is reaching a dangerous volume.
A Few Examples
Even if you do get that app and take it with you, your phone might not be with you everywhere you go. So a few examples of when to protect your ears might help you develop a good baseline. Here we go:
- Commuting and Driving: Driving all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re just hanging out downtown for work or getting on the subway. 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.
- Using Power Tools: You recognize that working all day at your factory job will necessitate hearing protection. But how about the enthusiast building in his workshop? Most hearing professionals will recommend you use hearing protection when operating power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist basis.
- Household 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 damage.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t require protection but does require caution. Give consideration to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s going directly into your ears. Think about using headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t have to turn up the volume to hazardous levels.
- Exercise: Your morning cycling class is a good example. Or even your evening workout session? You might think about wearing hearing protection to each. The loud volume from trainers who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it may be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
These illustrations may give you a suitable baseline. If there is any doubt, though, wear protection. In the majority of cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them exposed to possible damage in the future. Protect today, hear tomorrow.