You ever go to the beach and see one of those “Beware of Shark” signs? It’s not hard to realize that you should never dismiss a warning like that. A warning like that (especially if written in huge, red letters) may even make you reconsider your swim altogether. Inexplicably, though, it’s difficult for people to listen to warnings about their hearing in the same way.
Recent studies have found that millions of people neglect warning signs regarding their hearing (there’s little doubt that this is a global concern, though this research was specifically carried out in the United Kingdom). Knowledge is a big part of the problem. It’s fairly intuitive to be scared of sharks. But fear of loud noise? And how do you know how loud is too loud?
Loud And Dangerous Sound is Everywhere Around us
It isn’t just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your hearing (not to downplay the hearing risks of these scenarios). There are potential risks with many every-day sounds. That’s because exposure time is as harmful as the volume. Even lower-level sounds, including dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your hearing when experienced for more than two hours.
Generally speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this sound level. At this volume, there won’t be a limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioning unit. After around two hours this level of sound becomes dangerous.
- 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good illustration of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be dangerous at this level of sound.
- 100 dB: An approaching subway train or a mid-sized sporting event are at this volume (of course, this depends on the city). This volume can get hazardous after 15 minutes of exposure.
- 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up as high as it will go? On most smartphones, that’s about this volume. 5 minutes will be enough to be harmful at this level.
- 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock show or very large sporting events) can bring about immediate injury and pain in your ears.
How Loud is 85 Decibels?
Generally, you should look at anything 85 dB or higher as putting your hearing in danger. The problem 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 that’s one reason why hearing warnings commonly go neglected, particularly when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of potential solutions:
- Get an app: Your ears can’t be immediately safeguarded with an app. But there are a few sound level metering apps. Damage to your ears can occur without you recognizing it because it’s hard to know just how loud 85 dB feels. Using this app to keep track of sound levels, then, is the answer. This will help you develop a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (and you will also recognize right away when things are getting too noisy).
- Adequate signage and training: This especially refers to workspaces. Training and signage can help reinforce the real risks of hearing loss (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). Additionally, just how loud your workspace is, can be made clear by signage. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is suggested or required with appropriate training can be very useful.
When in Doubt: Protect
Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof solution. So take the time to protect your ears if you have any doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough period of time, can lead to hearing loss. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to injure your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).
If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the half way. You need noise cancellation headphones if you are continually turning up the volume to cover up background noise.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to recognize it. Increasing your own understanding and awareness is the answer if you want to do that. Protecting your ears, using ear protection, or limiting your exposure, is easy enough. That starts with a little recognition of when you need to do it.
That should be easier today, too. Particularly now that you know what to look for.
Schedule a hearing exam today if you think you might be suffering from hearing loss.