Knowing you should safeguard your hearing is one thing. Knowing when to safeguard your ears is a different story. It’s harder than, for instance, recognizing when you need sunscreen. (Are you going to go outside? Is there sunlight? You should be wearing sunblock.) It isn’t even as simple as knowing when to wear eye protection (Using a hammer? Working with a saw or dangerous chemicals? Use eye protection).
When it comes to when to use hearing protection, there seems to be a big grey area which can be risky. Unless we have specific information that some activity or place is dangerous we tend to take the easy path which is to avoid the problem altogether.
A Tale of Risk Analysis
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as permanent hearing damage or loss of hearing. To prove the point, check out some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts roughly 3 hours.
- Person B owns a landscaping business. She spends a considerable amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads.
- Person C works in an office.
You might think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) might be in more hearing danger. For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud performance. Presuming Ann’s activity was risky to her hearing would be fair.
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 hearing, right? Well, not really. Because Betty is mowing all day. The truth is, the damage builds up a little bit at a time although they don’t ring out. Even moderate noise, if experienced regularly, can injury your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less evident. The majority of people realize that you should safeguard your ears while running machines like a lawnmower. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute every day through the city. Additionally, she sits behind her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to consider protection?
When You Should Worry About Safeguarding Your Hearing
The general guideline is that if you need to raise your voice in order to be heard, your environment is loud enough to do harm to your hearing. And if your surroundings are that noisy, you really should think about using earmuffs or earplugs.
The cutoff should be 85dB if you want to be clinical. Sounds above 85dB have the ability, over time, to lead to damage, so you need to consider using hearing protection in those scenarios.
Your ears don’t have their own decibel meter to notify you when you reach that 85dB level, so countless hearing professionals suggest getting specialized apps for your phone. These apps can tell you when the surrounding sound is getting close to a hazardous level, and you can take proper steps.
A Few Examples
Even if you do download that app and take it with you, your phone might not be with you wherever you go. So a few examples of when to safeguard your ears may help you develop a good baseline. Here we go:
- Every day Chores: We already talked about how something as straightforward as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can necessitate hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing impairment.
- Using Power Tools: You understand you will require hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But how about the enthusiast building in his garage? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists recommend wearing hearing protection if you’re using power equipment.
- Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or maybe you’re just hanging out downtown for work or getting on the train. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your hearing, not to mention the extra damage caused by cranking up your music to drown out the city noise.
- Exercise: Your morning spin class is a good example. Or perhaps your daily elliptical session. All of these cases may require ear protection. The high volume from trainers who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be 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 is 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 crank up the sound to dangerous levels.
These examples might give you a suitable baseline. If there is any doubt, though, use protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them exposed to possible injury in the future. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.