Have you ever noticed the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not really a sign you dismiss. You might even rethink swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). For some reason, though, it’s more challenging for people to listen to warnings concerning their hearing in the same way.
Recent research has found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs when it comes to their hearing (these studies specifically considered populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s little doubt the concern is more global than that). Awareness is a big part of the problem. Fear of sharks is pretty instinctive. But most people don’t have an overt fear of loud sounds. And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?
Loud And Dangerous Sound is Everywhere Around us
It’s not just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that are dangerous to your ears (although both of those venues are, without a doubt, harmful to your hearing). Many every-day sounds can be harmful. That’s because the duration of sound is as harmful as the volume. Even lower-level noises, like dense city traffic, can be damaging to your hearing if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.
Broadly speaking, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this sound level. You should be perfectly fine around this level for an indefinite period.
- 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and a lawnmower are at this volume. After around two hours this level of sound becomes dangerous.
- 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good example of this sound level. This amount of exposure becomes dangerous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you might experience from a mid-size sports event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). This level of sound can get hazardous after 15 minutes of exposure.
- 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up as high as it will go? On most smartphones, that’s about this level. This level of exposure will become dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or exceptionally large sporting events) can bring about immediate damage and pain in your ears.
How Loud is 85 dB?
Generally speaking, you should look at anything 85 dB or above as putting your hearing in the danger zone. The problem is that it’s not always clear just how loud 85 dB is. It’s not tangible in the way that a shark is tangible.
And that’s one reason why hearing warnings frequently go ignored, specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of potential solutions:
- Adequate training and signage: This especially refers to workspaces. The significant risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the advantages of hearing protection). In addition, just how noisy your workplace is, can be clarified by signage. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is required or suggested.
- Get an app: Your hearing can’t be directly safeguarded with an app. But there are a number of free apps that can function as sound level monitors. Injury to your hearing can occur without you realizing it because it’s tough to know just how loud 85 dB feels. Using this app to keep track of noise levels, then, is the answer. Using this strategy will make it more instinctive to recognize when you are moving into the “danger zone”. (and you will also recognize immediately when things are getting too loud).
When in Doubt: Protect
No signage or app will ever be flawless. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to protect your ears. Noise damage, over a long enough period of time, can bring about hearing loss. And it’s easier than it ever has been to harm your ears (it’s a simple matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).
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 noise you should find different headphones that have noise cancellation.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to accept it. And to do that, you need to raise your own awareness and knowledge level. It isn’t difficult to reduce your exposure or at least use ear protection. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
That should be easier these days, too. Particularly now that you understand what to be aware of.
Schedule a hearing test right away if you think you might be suffering from hearing loss.