You ever go to the beach and noticed one of those “Beware of Shark” signs? It’s easy to realize that you shouldn’t dismiss a caution like that. You may even think twice about swimming at all with a sign like that (if the sign is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). But people usually don’t pay attention to warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Recent studies have found that millions of individuals disregard warning signs regarding their hearing (this research specifically considered populations in the UK, but there’s no doubt the problem is more global than that). Awareness is a huge part of the problem. It’s pretty intuitive to be scared of sharks. But the majority of people don’t have an overt fear of loud sounds. And the real question is, what’s too loud?
Loud And Dangerous Sound is All Around us
It isn’t just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your hearing (although both of those venues are, indeed, dangerous to your hearing). Many common sounds are potentially harmful. That’s because it’s not exclusively the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also the duration. Your hearing can be injured with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you experience it for more than two hours at a time.
Broadly speaking, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: This is the sound level you would expect of normal conversation. At this volume, there won’t be any limit to how long you can safely be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioner. After around two hours this level of sound becomes harmful.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. This level of exposure becomes harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: An approaching subway train or a mid-sized sporting event are at this sound level (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be unsafe at this volume.
- 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up as high as it will go? That’s usually around this volume on most smartphones. 5 minutes will be enough to be dangerous at this volume.
- 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and injury can occur at or above this volume (consider an arena sized sporting event or rock concert).
What Does 85 dB Sound Like?
In general, you should regard anything 85 dB or louder as putting your hearing in the danger zone. The issue is that it isn’t always apparent just how loud 85 dB is. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.
And that’s one reason why hearing cautions often go ignored, when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is especially true. There are a couple of potential solutions to this:
- Adequate signage and training: This refers to the workplace, in particular. Training and signage can help reinforce the significant dangers of hearing loss (and the benefits of hearing protection). Signage could also inform you just how loud your workspace is. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is needed or suggested.
- Get an app: There isn’t an app that will directly protect your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can work as sound level monitors. It’s hard to judge what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be injured without you even realizing it. The solution, then, is to have this app working and monitor the noise levels around you. Using this method will make it more instinctual to identify when you are going into the “danger zone”. (and you will also discern immediately when things are getting too loud).
If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself
No signage or app will ever be flawless. So when in doubt, take the time to safeguard your ears. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing problems. And it’s easier than it ever has been to harm your ears (all you need to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too high).
You shouldn’t raise the volume past half way, particularly if you’re listening all day. You require noise blocking headphones if you are always turning up the volume to block out background noise.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to acknowledge it. And to do that, you need to raise your own awareness and knowledge level. Safeguarding your ears, using ear protection, or limiting your exposure, is pretty simple. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
That should be easier nowadays, too. Especially now that you understand what to look for.
Schedule a hearing exam today if you think you may have hearing loss.