Knowing you need to safeguard your ears is one thing. It’s another matter to know when to protect your hearing. It’s not as easy as, for example, knowing when to use sunscreen. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outdoors? Then you need sunscreen.) It isn’t even as simple as determining when to use eye protection (Using a hammer? Cutting some wood or working with hazardous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
It can feel as though there’s a large grey area when addressing when to use ear protection, and that can be risky. Unless we have specific knowledge that some place or activity is dangerous 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 injury to the ears or the risk of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. To prove the point, check out some examples:
- Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. The concert lasts around 3 hours.
- Person B runs a landscaping company. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You may presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) may be in more hearing danger. For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud show. Presuming Ann’s activity was dangerous to her hearing 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 her ears must be less hazardous, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing all day. So even though her ears never ring out with pain, the harm builds up little by little. Even moderate noises, if experienced with enough frequency, can damage your hearing.
What’s happening 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 running equipment such as a lawnmower. But even though Chris has a fairly quiet job, her long morning commute on the train every day is quite loud. Additionally, she sits behind her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Is protection something she should consider?
When You Should Think About Safeguarding Your Ears
The general guideline is that if you need to raise your voice to be heard, your environment is loud enough to do damage to your hearing. And if your surroundings are that noisy, you need to consider using earplugs or earmuffs.
The cutoff should be 85dB if you want to be clinical. Sounds above 85dB have the ability to result in injury over time, so in those circumstances, you need to consider using hearing protection.
Your ears don’t have their own decibel meter to alert you when you reach that 85dB level, so many hearing professionals recommend obtaining special apps for your phone. These apps can let you know when the ambient sound is approaching a dangerous level, and you can take appropriate steps.
A Few Examples
Even if you do get that app and bring it with you, your phone might not be with you wherever you go. So we might establish a good baseline with a couple of examples of when to protect our hearing. Here we go:
- Household Chores: We already discussed how something as simple as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can require hearing protection. Chores, such as mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing damage.
- Operating Power Tools: You recognize that working all day at your factory job will necessitate ear protection. But how about the enthusiast building in his garage? Most hearing professionals will recommend you use hearing protection when working with power tools, even if it’s just on a hobbyist level.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, not protection. Whether your music is going directly into your ears, how loud it’s playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you need to give consideration to. Think about using headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t need to crank up the volume to damaging levels.
- Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re just hanging out downtown for work or boarding the train. The constant noise of city living, when experienced for 6-8 hours a day, can cause damage to your hearing over the long haul, specifically if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the commotion.
- Exercise: Your morning spin class is a perfect example. Or maybe your daily elliptical session. All of these examples could require ear protection. The high volume from trainers who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your hearing.
These illustrations may give you a suitable baseline. If there is any doubt, however, wear protection. Instead of leaving your ears exposed to future damage, in most instances, it’s better to protect your hearing. Protect today, hear tomorrow.