Realizing you need to protect your ears is one thing. It’s a different story to know when to safeguard your ears. It’s more difficult than, for instance, recognizing when you need sunblock. (Are you going to go outside? Is there sunlight? You need to be wearing sunscreen.) It isn’t even as easy as determining when to wear eye protection (Working with dangerous chemicals? Doing some building? You need eye protection).
With regards to when to use hearing protection, there seems to be a large grey area which can be risky. Usually, we’ll defer to our natural inclination to avoid hearing protection unless we have information that a particular activity or place is dangerous.
A Tale of Risk Evaluation
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. Let’s take some examples to demonstrate the situation:
- Person A attends a very loud rock concert. The concert lasts around 3 hours.
- Person B has 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 that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) may be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the performance with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend most of the next day, trying to hear herself speak. Assuming Ann’s activity was dangerous to her ears would be fair.
Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is subjected to less noise. There’s no ringing in her ears. So it has to be safer for her ears, right? Well, not quite. Because Betty is pushing that mower every day. So even though her ears never ring out with pain, the injury accrues gradually. Even moderate noise, if experienced with enough frequency, can harm your ears.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Lawnmowers come with instructions that emphasize the risks of persistent exposure to noise. But although Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute on the train each day is rather loud. Additionally, even though she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should think about?
When is it Time to Start to Think About Protecting Your Ears?
Normally, you should turn down the volume if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And if your surroundings are that loud, you should consider wearing earplugs or earmuffs.
So to put this a little more clinically, you should use 85dB as your cutoff. Sounds above 85dB have the potential, over time, to cause injury, so you need to give consideration to wearing hearing protection in those conditions.
Your ears don’t have a built-in sound level meter to alert you when you reach that 85dB level, so countless hearing specialists recommend downloading special apps for your phone. You will be capable of taking the correct steps to safeguard your hearing because these apps will tell you when the noise is reaching a harmful volume.
A Few Examples
Even if you do get that app and take it with you, your phone might not be with you wherever you go. So a few examples of when to safeguard your ears might help you establish a good standard. Here we go:
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require care. 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 getting headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t need to crank up the volume to damaging levels.
- Every day Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously explained, requires hearing protection. Chores, such as mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can lead to hearing damage.
- Working With Power Tools: You know that working all day at your factory job will require ear protection. But how about the enthusiast building in his workshop? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists suggest wearing hearing protection if you’re operating power equipment.
- Commuting and Driving: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re taking the subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the extra injury caused by cranking up your tunes to drown out the city noise.
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or even your nighttime Pilates session? You may consider wearing hearing protection to each. The loud volume from trainers who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
These examples may give you a suitable baseline. If there is any doubt, though, wear protection. Instead of leaving your ears exposed to future harm, in most situations, it’s better to protect your hearing. Protect today, hear tomorrow.