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Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

Realizing you should safeguard your ears is one thing. Recognizing when to safeguard your ears is a different story. It’s not as easy as, for example, recognizing when to use sunscreen. (Is it sunny and will you be outside? Then you need sunblock.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is simpler (Working with hazardous chemicals? Doing some building? You need eye protection).

It can feel as though there’s a significant grey area when addressing when to wear hearing protection, and that can be risky. Usually, we’ll defer to our natural tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a specified activity or place is hazardous.

Risk Evaluations

In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as long term hearing damage or hearing loss. To demonstrate the situation, here are some examples:

  • Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is around the length of the concert.
  • A landscaping business is run by person B. She spends a considerable amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads a book.
  • Person C is an office worker.

You might think the hearing danger is greater for person A (let’s just call her Ann). For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud concert. It seems rational to presume that Ann’s activity was very risky.

The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be less hazardous for her ears, right? Well, not really. Because Betty is riding that mower all day. In reality, the damage builds up a little at a time even though they don’t ring out. If experienced every day, even moderately loud noises can have a harmful affect on your ears.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Lawnmowers have instructions that indicate the dangers of continued exposure to noise. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute every day on the train. Also, even though she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to think about protection?

When is it Time to be Concerned About Protecting Your Ears?

The general rule of thumb is that if you need to raise your voice to be heard, your environment is noisy enough to do harm to your hearing. And if your environment is that noisy, you really should think about wearing earmuffs or earplugs.

If you want to think about this a bit more scientifically, you need to use 85dB as your cutoff. Sounds above 85dB have the capacity, over time, to cause damage, so in those circumstances, you should think about wearing hearing protection.

Most hearing professionals suggest using a special app to keep track of noise levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can let you know when the ambient noise is getting close to a hazardous level, and you can take proper steps.

A Few Examples

Your phone might not be with you wherever you go even if you do get the app. So we may formulate a good standard with a couple of examples of when to safeguard our hearing. Here we go:

  • Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or maybe your daily elliptical session. All of these cases may call for hearing protection. The loud volume from instructors who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your hearing.
  • Every day Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously mentioned, requires hearing protection. Chores, like mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing damage.
  • Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require caution. Whether your music is going directly into your ears, how loud it is playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you need to give consideration to. Noise-canceling headphones are a smart choice to prevent needing to turn the volume way up.
  • Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re taking a subway after waiting for a while downtown. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the added damage caused by turning up your music to drown out the city noise.
  • Using Power Tools: You know you will require hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But what if you’re simply puttering around your garage all day? Most hearing professionals will recommend you wear hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist level.

A strong baseline may be established by these examples. If there is any doubt, however, wear protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them subject to possible injury in the future. Protect today, hear tomorrow.

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