Understanding you should safeguard your hearing is one thing. It’s another matter to know when to safeguard your hearing. It’s more difficult than, for example, knowing when you need sunscreen. (Is the sun out and will you be outside? Then you need sunscreen.) It’s not even as simple as determining when to use eye protection (Using a hammer? Working with a saw or hazardous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
It can feel as though there’s a huge grey area when dealing with when to use ear protection, and that can be detrimental. Usually, we’ll defer to our normal inclination to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a specified place or activity is dangerous.
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 long term sensorineural hearing loss. To demonstrate the situation, check out some examples:
- Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. The concert lasts roughly 3 hours.
- A landscaping company is run by person B. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You might think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) may be in more hearing danger. For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be screeching from the loud performance. Assuming Ann’s activity was dangerous to her hearing would be fair.
Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. There’s no ringing in her ears. So it has to be less hazardous for her hearing, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is pushing that mower all day. So even though her ears don’t ring out with pain, the injury builds up little by little. Even moderate noises, if experienced regularly, can harm your ears.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less evident. Lawnmowers come with instructions that emphasize the dangers of persistent exposure to noise. But even though Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute on the train every day is fairly loud. Also, while she works at her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should consider?
When is it Time to Start Thinking About Protecting Your Hearing?
Generally, you need to turn the volume down if you have to shout to be heard. And you should consider using earmuffs or earplugs if your environment is that noisy.
If you want to think about this a bit more scientifically, you need to use 85dB as your limit. Sounds above 85dB have the potential, over time, to cause injury, so you need to give consideration to wearing ear protection in those situations.
Most hearing specialists suggest making use of a special app to keep track of noise levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the required steps to protect your hearing because these apps will inform you when the sound is reaching a hazardous level.
A Few Examples
Your phone may not be with you anywhere you go even if you do get the app. So a few examples of when to protect your ears might help you formulate a good standard. Here we go:
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or even your evening workout session? Each of these cases might call for ear protection. Those instructors who make use of sound systems and microphones (and loud music) to motivate you might be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your ears.
- Household Chores: We already mentioned how something as straightforward as mowing the lawn, when done frequently, can call for hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can lead to hearing impairment.
- Working With Power Tools: You recognize that working all day at your factory job will necessitate ear protection. But how about the hobbyist building in his garage? Most hearing professionals will suggest you use hearing protection when operating power tools, even if it’s just on a hobbyist basis.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require care. 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. Noise-canceling headphones are a great choice to avoid needing to turn the volume way up.
- Driving & Commuting: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re just hanging out downtown for work or getting on the subway. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your hearing, not to mention the extra damage caused by cranking up your tunes to drown out the city noise.
A good baseline may be researched by these examples. If there is any doubt, however, use protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them exposed to possible harm in the future. Protect today, hear tomorrow.