Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not really a sign you ignore. A sign like that (particularly if written in huge, red letters) might even make you rethink your swim altogether. But people don’t tend to pay attention to cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Recent research has found that millions of individuals ignore warning signs regarding their hearing (these studies exclusively looked at populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s no doubt the concern is more global than that). Knowledge is a huge part of the problem. Fear of sharks is fairly instinctive. But fear of loud noise? And the real question is, what’s too loud?
Loud And Hazardous Sound is All Around us
Your hearing isn’t just in peril at a rock concert or on the floor of a machine shop (not to downplay the hearing risks of these situations). There are potential dangers with many every-day sounds. That’s because the duration of sound is as harmful as the volume. Your hearing can be damaged with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you experience it for more than a couple of hours at a time.
Generally speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: This is the volume level you would find in everyday conversation. At this level, there won’t be any limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and a lawnmower are at this volume. This level of sound will normally become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. This level of exposure gets hazardous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: An approaching subway train or a mid-sized sports event are at this sound level (depending on the city, of course). This volume can get dangerous after 15 minutes of exposure.
- 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up as high as it will go? That’s normally around this sound level on most smartphones. 5 minutes will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
- 120 dB and over: Instant pain and damage can happen at or above this volume (think about an arena sized sports event or rock show).
What Does 85 Decibels Sound Like?
Generally speaking, you’re hearing is in peril when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or louder. But it can be hard to recognize how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.
And that’s one of the reasons why hearing cautions commonly go ignored, when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is particularly true. There are a couple of potential solutions to this:
- Suitable signage and training: This is true of workspaces, in particular. The real risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the advantages of hearing protection). In addition, just how noisy your workplace is, can be clarified by signage. Helping employees know when hearing protection is recommended or necessary with proper training can be really helpful.
- Download an app: There isn’t an app that’s going to immediately safeguard your ears. But there are a few sound level metering apps. It’s difficult to judge what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be damaged without you even realizing it. Using this app to monitor sound levels, then, is the solution. This can help you develop a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (Or, the app will simply alert you to when things get too noisy).
When in Doubt: Protect
Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof answer. So take the time to protect your ears if you are in doubt. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing issues. And it’s easier than ever to injure your ears (all you need to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too high).
You shouldn’t increase the volume past half way, especially if you’re listening all day. If you keep turning it up to hear your music over background noise you need different headphones that have noise cancellation.
That’s the reason why it’s more significant than ever to identify when loud becomes too loud. And to do that, you need to raise your own awareness and knowledge level. It isn’t difficult to limit your exposure or at least use ear protection. That begins with a little recognition of when you should do it.
That should be easier today, too. That’s even more relevant now that you have some insight.
Think you could have hearing loss? Schedule an exam.