It’s one thing to realize that you should protect your hearing. Recognizing when to protect your ears is another matter. It’s not as straight forward as, for example, knowing when to wear sunscreen. (Are you going to go outdoors? Is there sunlight? You should be using sunscreen.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is simpler (Using a hammer? Cutting some wood or working with hazardous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
It can feel like there’s a large grey area when dealing with when to wear ear protection, and that can be dangerous. Usually, we’ll defer to our normal tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a specific activity or place is hazardous.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as long term hearing damage or hearing loss. To prove the point, here are some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. 3 hours is approximately how long the concert lasts.
- Person B runs a landscaping business. She spends a significant amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might believe the hearing danger is higher for person A (let’s just call her Ann). Ann leaves the show with ringing ears, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, trying to hear herself speak. It seems rational to assume that Ann’s recreation was quite risky.
Person B (let’s just call her Betty), on the other hand, is subjected to less noise. There’s no ringing in her ears. So it must be less hazardous for her ears, right? Not really. Because Betty is pushing that mower all day. So even though her ears don’t ring out with pain, the harm accrues gradually. If experienced too often, even moderately loud noises can have a damaging affect on your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less obvious. Lawnmowers come with instructions that emphasize the dangers of persistent exposure to noise. But despite the fact that Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute through the city each day is fairly loud. What’s more, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to give some thought to protection?
When You Should Think About Safeguarding Your Hearing
Normally, you should turn down the volume if you have to shout to be heard. And if your surroundings are that loud, you need to think about wearing earmuffs or earplugs.
The limit should be 85dB if you want to be scientific. Noises above 85dB have the potential, over time, to lead to damage, so you need to consider wearing ear protection in those conditions.
Many hearing professionals recommend using a specialized app to monitor noise levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can let you know when the surrounding sound is nearing a harmful level, and you can take proper steps.
A Few Examples
Your phone may not be with you anywhere you go even if you do download the app. So we may formulate a good standard with a couple of examples of when to safeguard our ears. Here we go:
- Residential Chores: We already discussed how something as simple as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can call for hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great example of the kind of household task that may cause damage to your ears but that you most likely don’t think about all that often.
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or maybe your daily elliptical session. You may consider using hearing protection to each one. 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 loudness is bad for your hearing.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require care. Whether your music is playing directly into your ears, how loud it’s playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you should give consideration to. Consider getting headphones that cancel out outside sound so you don’t need to turn up the sound to dangerous levels.
- Operating Power Tools: You know that working all day at your factory job is going to necessitate ear protection. But how about the hobbyist building in his garage? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists suggest wearing hearing protection if you’re using power equipment.
- Driving & Commuting: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re just hanging around downtown for work or getting on the subway. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the extra damage caused by turning up your music to drown out the city noise.
These examples might give you a good baseline. If there is any doubt, however, wear protection. Instead of leaving your ears exposed to future injury, in most cases, it’s better to protect your hearing. Protect today, hear tomorrow.