Knowing you need to protect your ears is one thing. Recognizing when to safeguard your ears is a different story. It’s not as simple as, for example, determining when to use sunscreen. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outdoors? Then you need sunscreen.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is easier (Using a hammer? Working with a saw or hazardous chemicals? Use eye protection).
When dealing with when to wear hearing protection, there seems to be a big grey area which can be risky. Usually, we’ll defer to our normal inclination to avoid hearing protection unless we have information that a specified activity or place is hazardous.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as permanent hearing damage or loss of hearing. To demonstrate the situation, check out some examples:
- Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is about the length of the concert.
- Person B has a landscaping company. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You might presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) may be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the performance with ringing ears, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, struggling to hear herself speak. It seems rational to assume that Ann’s recreation was very risky.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be less hazardous for her ears, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing every day. Actually, the damage builds up a little bit at a time although they don’t ring out. If experienced every day, even moderately loud noise can have a harmful affect on your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less evident. Most individuals realize that you need to protect your ears while running machines like a lawnmower. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute each day on the train. Additionally, she sits behind her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to give some thought to protection?
When You Should Worry About Safeguarding Your Hearing
Generally, you need to turn down the volume if you have to shout to be heard. And if your environment is that loud, you need to consider using earmuffs or earplugs.
The cutoff should be 85dB if you want to get scientific. Sounds above 85dB have the ability to result in damage over time, so in those scenarios, you should consider using hearing protection.
Many hearing professionals recommend making use of a special app to keep track of decibel levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can show you when the surrounding noise is approaching a hazardous level, and you can take appropriate steps.
A Few Examples
Even if you do get that app and bring it with you, your phone might not be with you everywhere you go. So we may formulate a good standard with a few examples of when to safeguard our ears. Here we go:
- Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re riding a subway after waiting for a while downtown. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your hearing, not to mention the added injury caused by cranking up your music to drown out the city noise.
- Exercise: Your morning cycling class is a good example. Or maybe your evening Pilates session? You might think about wearing hearing protection to each. The loud volume from trainers who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require care. 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 pay attention to. Noise-canceling headphones are a great choice to avoid needing to turn the volume way up.
- Domestic Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously mentioned, necessitates hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can cause hearing impairment.
- Using Power Tools: You recognize you will want hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But how about the hobbyist building in his garage? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists suggest wearing hearing protection if you’re using power equipment.
These examples may give you a suitable baseline. When in doubt, however, you should defer to protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them subject to possible harm in the future. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.