Understanding you need to protect your hearing is one thing. Knowing when to safeguard your ears is another matter. It’s not as easy as, for example, recognizing when to use sunblock. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outside? Then you need sunscreen.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is easier (Handling hazardous chemicals? Doing some building? You need to wear eye protection).
With regards to when to wear hearing protection, there seems to be a big grey area which can be risky. Unless we have particular information that some place or activity is dangerous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the problem entirely.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as lasting hearing damage or loss of hearing. To demonstrate the situation, here are some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts about 3 hours.
- A landscaping company is run by person B. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might believe the hearing hazard is greater for person A (let’s just call her Ann). For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud show. It seems rational to presume that Ann’s recreation was rather hazardous.
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 has to be less hazardous for her hearing, right? Not really. Because Betty is mowing all day. In reality, the damage builds up a little bit at a time even though they don’t ring out. Even moderate sounds, if experienced regularly, can damage your ears.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. The majority of individuals recognize that you need to safeguard your hearing while using equipment such as a lawnmower. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a very noisy, hour-long commute every day on the train. What’s more, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Is protection something she should think about?
When is it Time to Begin Thinking About Protecting Your Hearing?
The normal guideline is that if you need to raise your voice to be heard, your surroundings are loud enough to do damage to your ears. And you really should consider wearing earplugs or earmuffs if your environment is that loud.
If you want to think about this a little more clinically, you should use 85dB as your limit. Noises above 85dB have the potential, over time, to lead to injury, so you need to give consideration to using hearing protection in those situations.
Your ears don’t have their own sound level meter to alert you when you get to that 85dB level, so most hearing specialists recommend downloading special apps for your phone. You will be able to take the correct steps to protect your hearing because these apps will inform you when the noise is reaching a harmful level.
A Few Examples
Your phone may not be with you wherever you go even if you do get the app. So we may develop a good standard with a few examples of when to protect our ears. Here we go:
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or even your evening workout session? You may think about using hearing protection to each. Those instructors who use microphones and sound systems (and loud music) to motivate you may be good for your heart rate, but all that loudness is bad for your ears.
- Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or maybe you’re taking the subway after waiting for a while downtown. The constant noise of city living, when experienced for between 6 and 8 hours a day, can cause injury to your hearing over the long term, especially if you’re cranking up your music to hear it over the din.
- Working With Power Tools: You recognize you will want hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But what if you’re simply puttering around your garage all day? Most hearing specialists will suggest you wear hearing protection when operating power tools, even if it’s just on a hobbyist level.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for 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. Noise-canceling headphones are a great choice to steer clear of needing to turn the volume way up.
- Every day Chores: We already discussed how something as simple as mowing the lawn, when done frequently, can call for hearing protection. Chores, like mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing impairment.
A good baseline might be researched by these examples. If there is any doubt, though, use protection. Instead of leaving your ears exposed to future injury, in most situations, it’s better to protect your hearing. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.