Understanding you need to safeguard your hearing is one thing. Recognizing when to safeguard your ears is a different story. It’s not as easy as, for example, knowing when to wear sunblock. (Are you going outside? Is the sun out? You need to be using sunscreen.) It’s not even as simple as knowing when to use eye protection (Using a hammer? Working with a saw or dangerous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
With regards to when to use hearing protection, there seems to be a large grey area which can be risky. Frequently, we’ll defer to our normal tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a specific place or activity is dangerous.
A Tale of Risk Assessment
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 risk of permanent sensorineural hearing loss. To demonstrate the situation, here are some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. 3 hours is around the length of the concert.
- A landscaping company is run by person B. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might believe the hearing danger is greater for person A (let’s just call her Ann). Ann leaves the show with ringing ears, and she’ll spend most of the next day, struggling to hear herself talk. Assuming Ann’s activity was risky to her hearing would be reasonable.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So her ears must be safer, right? Well, not quite. Because Betty is mowing every day. Actually, the damage accumulates a little bit at a time although they don’t ring out. If experienced too often, even moderately loud noises can have a detrimental affect on your ears.
What’s going on with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even more difficult to make sense of. Lawnmowers have instructions that point out the hazards of continued exposure to noise. But even though Chris works in a quiet office, she has a very noisy, hour-long commute every day through the city. Also, while she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to give some thought to protection?
When is it Time to Begin Thinking About Protecting Your Hearing?
The general guideline is that if you need to raise your voice to be heard, your surroundings are loud enough to do harm to your ears. And you really should think about wearing earplugs or earmuffs if your environment is that loud.
The cutoff needs to be 85dB if you want to be clinical. Sounds above 85dB have the ability to result in injury over time, so you should consider using ear protection in those circumstances.
Most hearing professionals suggest making use of a special app to keep track of decibel levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can tell you when the surrounding noise is nearing a dangerous level, and you can take appropriate steps.
A Few Examples
Your phone may not be with you anywhere you go even if you do download the app. So a few examples of when to safeguard your ears may help you develop a good standard. Here we go:
- Using Power Tools: You recognize that working all day at your factory job is going to necessitate ear protection. But how about the hobbyist building in his garage? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists suggest wearing hearing protection if you’re using power equipment.
- Every day Chores: Even mowing a lawn, as previously explained, necessitates hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great illustration of the type of household chore that may cause injury to your hearing but that you most likely don’t think about all that often.
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or maybe your daily elliptical session. You may think about using hearing protection to each. The loud volume from trainers who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your hearing.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t require protection but does require caution. Pay attention 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 noise so you don’t need to crank up the volume to damaging levels.
- Driving & Commuting: Driving all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or maybe you’re just hanging around downtown for work or getting on the subway. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the added damage caused by turning up your music to drown out the city noise.
These illustrations may give you a good baseline. If there is any doubt, though, wear protection. Compared to leaving your ears exposed to future damage, in most cases, it’s better to protect your hearing. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.