Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not exactly a warning you disregard. You may even rethink swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). But people don’t tend to pay attention to warnings 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 (this research specifically considered populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s little doubt the problem is more global than that). Knowledge is a huge part of the issue. It’s pretty instinctive to be scared of sharks. But the majority of people don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And the real question is, what’s too loud?
Loud And Hazardous Sound is All Around us
It’s not just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your ears (not to downplay the hearing hazards of these scenarios). There are potential hazards with many every-day sounds. That’s because it’s not just the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also the duration. Even low-level noises, such as dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your hearing if you are exposed for more than two hours.
keep reading to find out when sound gets too loud:
- 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this sound level. At this level, there won’t be a limit to how long you can safely be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and lawn equipment are at this volume. This level of sound will usually become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. This amount of exposure becomes harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: An oncoming subway train or a mid-sized sporting event are at this volume (of course, this depends on the city). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Have you ever cranked your Spotify music up to ten? On most smartphones, that’s right around this level. This level of exposure is dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and injury can occur at or above this level (think about an arena sized sports event or rock concert).
What Does 85 Decibels Sound Like?
In general, you should look at anything 85 dB or above as putting your hearing at risk. But it can be difficult to distinguish how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. It’s not tangible in the way that a shark is tangible.
And that’s one reason why hearing cautions frequently go ignored, specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. There are a couple of potential solutions to this:
- Sufficient training and signage: This applies to the workplace, in particular. Training and signage can help reinforce the significant hazards of hearing loss (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). Signage could also let you know just how noisy your workplace is. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is necessary or suggested.
- Get an app: There isn’t an app that’s going to directly safeguard your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can work as sound level monitors. Damage to your hearing can happen without you realizing it because it’s hard to recognize just how loud 85 dB feels. The solution, then, is to have this app open and track the sound levels around you. Using this strategy will make it more instinctive to recognize when you are moving into the “danger zone”. (Or, the app will merely let you know when things get too loud).
When in Doubt: Protect
No signage or app will ever be 100%. So take the time to safeguard your hearing if you are in doubt. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing problems. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to harm your ears (all you have to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too high).
You shouldn’t increase the volume past half way, specifically if you’re listening all day. If you keep turning it up to hear your music over background sound you should find different headphones that can block out noise.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to accept it. And to do that, you need to increase your own recognition and knowledge level. Protecting your ears, using earplugs, earmuffs, or decreasing your exposure, is easy enough. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
Today that should also be easier. Especially now that you understand what to look for.
Schedule a hearing examination today if you think you may have hearing loss.