It’s one thing to recognize that you need to safeguard your hearing. It’s another matter to know when to protect your ears. It’s not as straight forward as, for example, knowing when to wear sunblock. (Is it sunny and will you be outside? Then you need sunscreen.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is simpler (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 huge grey area which can be risky. Unless we have particular information that some activity or place is hazardous we tend to take the easy path which is to avoid the issue entirely.
Evaluating The Risks
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 permanent sensorineural hearing loss. Let’s take some examples to demonstrate the situation:
- Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is around how long the concert lasts.
- A landscaping business is run by person B. She spends a significant amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads.
- Person C works in an office.
You may presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) may be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the show with ringing ears, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, struggling to hear herself speak. It seems rational to presume that Ann’s activity was rather hazardous.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. There’s no ringing in her ears. So her ears must be safer, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is pushing that mower all day. So even though her ears don’t ring out with pain, the damage accrues little by little. Even moderate noise, if experienced regularly, can injury your ears.
What’s going on with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even tougher to make sense of. Lawnmowers have instructions that indicate the hazards of continued exposure to noise. But despite the fact that Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute through the city each day is fairly loud. In addition, she sits behind her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to think about protection?
When is it Time to be Concerned About Protecting Your Ears?
Generally, you should turn down the volume if you have to shout to be heard. And if your environment is that loud, you really should consider using earplugs or earmuffs.
The limit should be 85dB if you want to be scientific. Sounds above 85dB have the capacity to result in injury over time, so in those circumstances, you need to consider using ear protection.
Many hearing professionals recommend getting a special app to monitor noise levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can inform you when the ambient noise is nearing a harmful level, and you can take appropriate steps.
A Few Examples
Your phone may not be with you anywhere you go even if you do download the app. So a few examples of when to safeguard your ears may help you develop a good baseline. Here we go:
- Household Chores: Even mowing a lawn, as previously explained, requires hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a good example of the kind of household job that could cause injury to your hearing but that you most likely don’t think about all that often.
- Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or maybe you’re riding the subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the added injury caused by turning up your music to drown out the city noise.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t require protection but does require caution. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s going directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a smart choice to prevent having to turn the volume way up.
- Exercise: Your morning cycling class is a perfect example. Or maybe your daily elliptical session. Each of these cases might require hearing protection. Those instructors who make use of microphones and sound systems (and loud music) to motivate you might be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your hearing.
- Using Power Tools: You recognize that working all day at your factory job will necessitate hearing protection. But how about the hobbyist building in his workshop? Most hearing professionals will recommend you use hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s just on a hobbyist basis.
These examples might give you a good baseline. When in doubt, however, you should choose protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them exposed to possible injury down the road. Protect today, hear tomorrow.