Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s easy to realize that you shouldn’t ignore a caution like that. You might even rethink swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s especially true). For some reason, though, it’s difficult for people to pay attention to warnings about their hearing in the same way.
Recent research has found that millions of individuals disregard warning signs regarding their hearing (there’s little doubt that this is a global concern, though these studies were specifically carried out in the UK). Awareness is a big part of the issue. It’s pretty intuitive to be scared of sharks. But fear of loud noise? And how do you know how loud is too loud?
Loud And Hazardous Sound is All Around us
Your ears are not just in peril at a live concert or construction site (although both of those situations are, without a doubt, dangerous to your hearing). Many common sounds are potentially dangerous. That’s because it isn’t just the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also the duration. Your hearing can be damaged with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you experience it for more than two hours at a time.
Generally speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this sound level. You should be perfectly fine at this volume for an indefinite length of time.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioner. This volume will normally become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good example of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be unsafe at this level of sound.
- 100 dB: This is the level of noise you might experience from a mid-size sports event or an approaching subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be harmful at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up to max? On most smartphones, that’s right around this volume. 5 minutes will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
- 120 dB and over: Any sound over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or extremely large sporting events) can produce immediate injury and pain in your ears.
What Does 85 dB Sound Like?
Generally speaking, you’re hearing is in danger when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or above. But it can be hard to recognize how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. It’s not tangible in the way that a shark is tangible.
And that’s one of the reasons why hearing warnings often go neglected, when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is particularly true. There are a couple of potential solutions to this:
- Sufficient signage and training: This particularly relates to workspaces. The significant hazards of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). Signage could also let you know just how loud your workspace is. Training can tell employees when hearing protection is necessary or suggested.
- Get an app: Your ears can’t be directly safeguarded with an app. But there are a few sound level metering apps. It’s hard to assess what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be damaged without you even realizing it. The answer, then, is to have this app working and track the sound levels around you. Using this method will make it more instinctive to distinguish when you are going into the “danger zone”. (Or, the app will merely alert you to when things get too noisy).
If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself
Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof solution. So make the effort to safeguard your ears if you have any doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can result in hearing loss. And it’s easier than it ever has been to harm your ears (all you need to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too loud).
If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the mid-mark. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background noise you need different headphones that can block out noise.
That’s the reason why it’s more significant than ever to recognize when loud becomes too loud. Increasing your own knowledge and recognition is the answer if you want to do that. Protecting your ears, using ear protection, or reducing your exposure, is not that difficult. But you have to know when to do it.
Nowadays that should also be easier. Especially now that you understand what to look for.
Schedule a hearing test right away if you think you might be suffering from hearing loss.