Understanding you need to safeguard your hearing is one thing. It’s a different story to know when to safeguard your hearing. It’s not as straight forward as, for example, determining when to wear sunblock. (Is the sun out and will you be outdoors? Then you need sunblock.) It’s not even as easy as recognizing when to wear eye protection (Doing some hammering? Cutting some wood or working with hazardous chemicals? Use eye protection).
It can feel as though there’s a large grey area when addressing when to wear hearing protection, and that can be dangerous. Unless we have particular knowledge that some place or activity is hazardous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the issue entirely.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as long term hearing problems or hearing loss. To prove the point, here are some examples:
- Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. The concert lasts about 3 hours.
- Person B runs a landscaping business. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You may think the hearing hazard is higher for person A (let’s just call her Ann). For most of the next day, her ears will still be screeching from the loud performance. Presuming Ann’s activity was hazardous to her ears would be sensible.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be less hazardous for her ears, right? Well, not really. Because Betty is mowing every day. So although her ears never ring out with pain, the damage builds up gradually. Even moderate noises, if experienced regularly, can damage your ears.
What’s occurring with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even more difficult to sort out. The majority of people understand that you should protect your ears while using machines such as a lawnmower. But even though Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute on the train each day is fairly loud. 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 Worry About Protecting Your Ears?
The normal rule of thumb is that if you have to raise your voice to be heard, your surroundings are loud enough to do harm to your hearing. And if your environment is that noisy, you need to consider wearing earplugs or earmuffs.
If you want to think about this a little more clinically, you should use 85dB as your cutoff. Noises above 85dB have the potential to result in damage over time, so you should think about wearing ear protection in those conditions.
Many hearing professionals recommend making use of a special app to monitor decibel levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the appropriate steps to protect your ears because these apps will tell you when the noise is approaching a dangerous volume.
A Few Examples
Even if you do download that app and bring it with you, your phone may not be with you wherever you go. So we may establish a good standard with a couple of examples of when to protect our ears. Here we go:
- Working With Power Tools: You recognize you will require hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But how about the hobbyist building in his garage? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists recommend wearing hearing protection if you’re utilizing power equipment.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, not protection. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s going directly into your ears. Consider getting headphones that cancel out outside sound so you don’t have to turn up the volume to dangerous levels.
- Driving & Commuting: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re just hanging out downtown for work or getting on the subway. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your hearing, not to mention the extra damage caused by turning up your music to drown out the city noise.
- Household Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously explained, calls for hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great illustration of the sort of household chore that might cause damage to your hearing but that you probably don’t think about all that often.
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or maybe your nighttime workout session? You might think about using hearing protection to each. The loud volume from trainers who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it may be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
A strong baseline might be researched by these examples. If there is any doubt, however, use protection. In the majority of cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them exposed to possible damage in the future. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.