It’s one thing to recognize that you should safeguard your hearing. Recognizing when to safeguard your ears is another matter. It’s not as simple as, for example, recognizing when to use sunblock. (Are you going to go outside? Is there sunlight? You should be wearing sunblock.) It isn’t even as simple as knowing when to wear eye protection (Doing some hammering? Working with a saw or hazardous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
It can feel as though there’s a large grey area when dealing with when to use hearing protection, and that can be detrimental. Unless we have specific knowledge that some place or activity is dangerous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the issue altogether.
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. To demonstrate the situation, here are some examples:
- Person A attends a very loud rock concert. The concert lasts roughly 3 hours.
- Person B owns a landscaping business. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You might think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) might be in more hearing danger. For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud performance. It seems reasonable to assume that Ann’s recreation was quite hazardous.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. There’s no ringing in her ears. So it has to be less hazardous for her ears, right? Not really. Because Betty is mowing all day. In reality, the damage accumulates a little at a time even though they don’t ring out. Even moderate noise, if experienced with enough frequency, can damage your ears.
What’s going on with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even tougher to sort out. Lawnmowers have instructions that indicate the risks of persistent exposure to noise. But although Chris has a fairly quiet job, her long morning commute through the city each day is fairly loud. In addition, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Is protection something she should think about?
When is it Time to Begin to Think About Safeguarding Your Hearing?
The normal guideline is that if you need to raise your voice in order to be heard, your environment is loud enough to do injure to your ears. And if your surroundings are that noisy, you should consider wearing earplugs or earmuffs.
The cutoff needs to be 85dB if you want to get scientific. Sounds above 85dB have the potential, over time, to cause injury, so you should think about using ear protection in those circumstances.
Your ears don’t have a built-in decibel meter to alert you when you reach that 85dB level, so most hearing specialists recommend obtaining specialized apps for your phone. You will be capable of taking the appropriate steps to protect your hearing because these apps will tell you when the sound is reaching a harmful level.
A Few Examples
Even if you do download that app and take it with you, your phone may not be with you wherever you go. So we might formulate a good standard with a couple of examples of when to protect our hearing. Here we go:
- Using Power Tools: You recognize that working all day at your factory job is going to call for ear protection. But how about the enthusiast building in his workshop? Most hearing specialists will recommend you use hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s just on a hobbyist level.
- Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re just waiting downtown for work or getting on the train. The constant noise of living in the city, when experienced for 6-8 hours every day, can cause injury to your ears over the long term, particularly if you’re cranking up your music to hear it over the din.
- Household Chores: We already talked about how something as simple as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can require hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great example of the kind of household task that might cause injury to your hearing but that you probably won’t think about all that often.
- Exercise: Your morning spin class is a perfect example. Or perhaps your daily elliptical session. You may consider wearing hearing protection to each. Those trainers who make use of microphones and sound systems (and loud music) to motivate you may be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your hearing.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, not protection. Give consideration to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Think about getting headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t need to turn up the volume to damaging levels.
These illustrations might give you a suitable baseline. When in doubt, however, you should choose protection. Rather than leaving your ears exposed to future damage, in most situations, it’s better to protect your ears. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.