It’s one thing to realize that you should protect your ears. It’s another matter to know when to safeguard your hearing. It’s harder than, let’s say, knowing when you need sunscreen. (Are you going outdoors? Is the sun out? You need to be wearing sunscreen.) It isn’t even as easy as knowing when to wear eye protection (Using a hammer? Cutting some wood or working with dangerous chemicals? Use eye protection).
With regards to when to wear hearing protection, there seems to be a huge grey area which can be risky. Often, we’ll defer to our normal inclination to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a particular place or activity is dangerous.
A Tale of Risk Analysis
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as damage to the ears or the probability of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. To demonstrate the situation, check out some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. 3 hours is about how long the concert lasts.
- Person B owns a landscaping business. She spends a significant amount of time mowing lawns, then goes home to a quiet house and reads.
- Person C works in an office.
You might believe the hearing hazard is higher 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. Presuming Ann’s activity was risky to her ears would be sensible.
Person B (let’s just call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So her ears must be safer, right? Well, not quite. Because Betty is mowing every day. So despite the fact that her ears don’t ring out with pain, the damage accrues gradually. If experienced too often, even moderately loud noises can have a harmful affect on your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less obvious. Lawnmowers have instructions that point out the dangers of long-term exposure to noise. But despite the fact that Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute on the train each day is fairly loud. Also, while she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should consider?
When You Should be Concerned About Protecting Your Hearing
The standard guideline is that if you need to raise your voice to be heard, your environment is loud enough to do harm to your ears. And you really should think about using earmuffs or earplugs if your surroundings are that loud.
The cutoff should be 85dB if you want to be scientific. Sounds above 85dB have the capacity, over time, to lead to injury, so you should consider wearing ear protection in those situations.
Most hearing specialists advise getting a specialized app to keep track of decibel levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can inform you when the surrounding noise is approaching a harmful level, and you can take proper steps.
A Few Examples
Even if you do download that app and bring it with you, your phone may not be with you everywhere you go. So we might develop a good baseline with a few examples of when to safeguard our ears. Here we go:
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, not protection. 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 should pay attention to. Noise-canceling headphones are a smart choice to prevent needing to turn the volume way up.
- Using Power Tools: You recognize you will require hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But what if you’re just puttering around your garage all day? Most hearing professionals will suggest you use hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s just on a hobbyist basis.
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or even your nighttime Pilates session? You may think about using hearing protection to each one. 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 loudness is bad for your ears.
- Residential Chores: We already mentioned how something as basic as mowing the lawn, when done frequently, can necessitate hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing impairment.
- Driving & Commuting: Driving all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re taking the subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The constant noise of living in the city, when experienced for between 6 and 8 hours every day, can cause damage to your hearing over the long haul, particularly if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the commotion.
A good baseline might be established by these examples. If there is any doubt, however, wear protection. Compared to leaving your ears exposed to future injury, in most instances, it’s better to protect your hearing. Protect today, hear tomorrow.