Understanding you should protect your ears is one thing. Knowing when to protect your ears is another matter. It’s more difficult than, for example, knowing when you need sunblock. (Is it sunny and will you be outdoors? Then you need sunblock.) It isn’t even as easy as determining when to wear eye protection (Using a hammer? Working with a saw or dangerous chemicals? Use eye protection).
With regards to when to use hearing protection, there seems to be a large grey area which can be risky. Frequently, we’ll defer to our natural tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we have information that a particular activity or place is dangerous.
A Tale of Risk Assessment
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as permanent hearing damage or hearing loss. Here are some examples to demonstrate the situation:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts around 3 hours.
- Person B has a landscaping business. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You might presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) might be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the show with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, trying to hear herself speak. It seems fair to assume that Ann’s activity was very risky.
Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is subjected to less noise. There’s no ringing in her ears. So it has to be less hazardous for her ears, right? Well, not exactly. Because Betty is mowing all day. The truth is, the damage builds up a little at a time although they don’t ring out. If experienced on a regular basis, even moderately loud sounds can have a harmful affect on your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less obvious. The majority of individuals realize that you should protect your hearing while using equipment such as a lawnmower. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute every day through the city. Also, even though she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should think about?
When is it Time to Start Thinking About Protecting Your Ears?
The general rule of thumb is that if you have to raise your voice in order to be heard, your environment is loud enough to do injure to your ears. And you need to consider using earmuffs or earplugs if your environment is that loud.
If you want to think about this a little more clinically, you should use 85dB as your limit. Noises above 85dB have the ability, over time, to result in damage, so you need to consider wearing ear protection in those circumstances.
Many hearing specialists suggest using a special app to keep track of noise levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be able to take the appropriate steps to safeguard your hearing because these apps will inform you when the noise is reaching a hazardous level.
A Few Examples
Your phone might not be with you wherever you go even if you do get the app. So a few examples of when to protect your ears might help you develop a good standard. Here we go:
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, more than protection. Whether your music is playing 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 good choice to prevent having 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 boarding the train. 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 cranking up your music to hear it over the commotion.
- Every day Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously stated, calls for hearing protection. Chores, like mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can cause hearing damage.
- Working With Power Tools: You know you will need hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But what if you’re simply puttering around your garage all day? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists recommend using hearing protection if you’re working with power equipment.
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or maybe your evening workout session? You might think about wearing hearing protection to each one. The high volume from instructors who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your hearing.
A strong baseline may be researched by these examples. If there is any doubt, though, use protection. In the majority of cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them subject to possible injury in the future. Protect today, hear tomorrow.