Have you ever noticed the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not hard to understand that you shouldn’t dismiss a warning like that. A warning like that (particularly if written in large, red letters) may even make you reconsider your swim altogether. But people don’t tend to heed cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Recent studies have found that millions of people disregard warning signs when it comes to their hearing (these studies specifically looked at populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s little doubt the problem is more global than that). Part of the challenge is knowledge. To be afraid of sharks is fairly intuitive. But most people don’t have an overt fear of loud sounds. And the real question is, what’s too loud?
We’re Surrounded by Hazardously Loud Sounds
Your hearing isn’t just in danger at a rock concert or on the floor of a machine shop (although both of those venues are, without a doubt, harmful to your hearing). Many every-day sounds are potentially hazardous. That’s because it’s not only the volume of a sound that presents a danger; it’s also the duration. Even lower-level noises, such as dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your ears when experienced for more than a couple of hours.
Broadly speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: This is the volume level you would find in everyday conversation. At this level, there won’t be a limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and a lawnmower are at this level of sound. This volume will usually become harmful after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. 50 minutes is enough to be harmful at this level of sound.
- 100 dB: An approaching subway train or a mid-sized sports event are at this sound level (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up to max? That’s usually around this sound level on most smartphones. This level of exposure will become dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and injury can occur at or above this level (consider an arena sized sports event or rock concert).
How Loud is 85 dB?
Broadly speaking, you should regard anything 85 dB or above as putting your hearing at risk. But it can be difficult to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.
And hearing warnings often get neglected for this reason when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is particularly true. Here are a couple of potential solutions:
- Download an app: Your hearing can’t be directly safeguarded with an app. But there are several free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to assess what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be damaged without you even realizing it. The answer, then, is to have this app working and keep track of the sound levels near you. This can help you establish a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (Or, the app will simply let you know when things get too noisy).
- Sufficient training and signage: This is true of workspaces, in particular. The significant dangers of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). Signage could also let you know just how loud your workspace is. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is necessary or recommended.
If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself
No app and no signage will ever be flawless. So make the effort to safeguard your hearing if you have any doubt. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing issues. And these days, it’s never been easier to damage your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).
You shouldn’t raise the volume past half way, especially if you’re listening all day. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background sound you should find different headphones that can block out noise.
That’s the reason why it’s more significant than ever to identify when the volume becomes too loud. Increasing your own knowledge and awareness is the answer if you want to do that. It isn’t difficult to minimize your exposure or at least use ear protection. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
Nowadays that should also be easier. Especially now that you know what to look for.
Think you could have hearing loss? Schedule a test.