Have you ever noticed the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you go to the ocean? It’s easy to understand that you should never disregard a caution like that. A warning like that (especially if written in huge, 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.
Current studies have found that millions of people ignore warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global problem, though this research was exclusively carried out in the UK). Part of the challenge is knowledge. Fear of sharks is pretty intuitive. But being scared of loud noise? And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?
Loud And Hazardous Sound is Everywhere Around us
Your ears are not just in danger at a live concert or on the floor of a machine shop (not to downplay the hearing risks of these scenarios). There are potential hazards with many every-day sounds. That’s because it isn’t exclusively the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also the duration. Your hearing can be injured with even low level noises like dense city traffic if you’re exposed to it for more than a couple of hours at a time.
Generally, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: This is the sound level you would expect of normal conversation. You should be just fine at this level for an indefinite length of time.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the sound level of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioning unit. After about two hours this level of sound becomes harmful.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. 50 minutes is enough to be dangerous at this level of sound.
- 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you might experience from a mid-size sports event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). This volume can get hazardous after 15 minutes of exposure.
- 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up to max? That’s normally around this sound level on most smartphones. This level of exposure is dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Any sound over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or extremely large sporting events) can produce immediate damage and pain in your ears.
How Loud is 85 dB?
In general, you should look at anything 85 dB or above as putting your ears at risk. But it can be difficult to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.
And that’s one reason why hearing cautions frequently go ignored, specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of potential solutions:
- Download an app: There isn’t an app that will directly protect your ears. But there are several free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s hard to determine what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be injured without you even knowing it. Using this app to monitor noise levels, then, is the answer. Using this approach will make it more instinctive to recognize when you are going into the “danger zone”. (and you will also recognize right away when things are getting too noisy).
- Adequate training and signage: This especially relates to workspaces. Signage and training can help reinforce the real hazards of hearing loss (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). Signage could also inform you just how loud your workplace is. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is suggested or necessary with appropriate training can be really helpful.
When in Doubt: Protect
Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof solution. So when in doubt, take the time to safeguard your ears. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing issues. And it’s easier than ever to damage your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your music too loudly).
You shouldn’t raise the volume past half way, specifically if you’re listening all day. You need noise cancellation headphones if you are constantly turning up the volume to cover up background sound.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to acknowledge it. Raising your own understanding and recognition is the answer if you want to do that. It isn’t difficult to reduce your exposure or at least wear hearing protection. That begins with a little recognition of when you need to do it.
That should be easier these days, too. Especially now that you understand what to look for.
Schedule a hearing examination right away if you think you might have hearing loss.