Understanding you should protect your ears is one thing. It’s a different story to know when to safeguard your hearing. It’s not as easy as, for example, determining when to wear sunscreen. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outside? Then you need sunscreen.) It’s not even as easy as determining when to use eye protection (Working with hazardous chemicals? Doing some construction? You need eye protection).
With regards to when to use hearing protection, there seems to be a big grey area which can be risky. Often, we’ll defer to our normal tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we have information that a particular activity or place is dangerous.
Assessing 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 long term sensorineural hearing loss. To demonstrate the situation, check out some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts about 3 hours.
- A landscaping business is run by person B. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You may think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) might be in more hearing danger. For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be screeching from the loud concert. Assuming Ann’s activity was hazardous to her hearing would be reasonable.
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 hearing must be safer, right? Well, not exactly. Because Betty is mowing all day. So despite the fact that her ears never ring out with pain, the injury builds up little by little. If experienced on a regular basis, even moderately loud noise can have a damaging affect on your ears.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Lawnmowers have instructions that emphasize the dangers of long-term exposure to noise. But although Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute on the train each day is fairly loud. Additionally, while 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 to Consider About Safeguarding Your Hearing?
In general, you need to turn down the volume if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And if your surroundings are that noisy, you really should think about wearing earplugs or earmuffs.
If you want to think about this a little more scientifically, you need to use 85dB as your limit. Sounds above 85dB have the ability to result in damage over time, so you need to think about wearing ear protection in those circumstances.
Your ears don’t have a built-in decibel meter to alert you when you get to that 85dB level, so many hearing professionals recommend getting special apps for your phone. You will be capable of taking the necessary steps to protect your hearing because these apps will inform you when the noise is getting to a harmful level.
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 a few examples of when to protect your ears may help you establish a good baseline. Here we go:
- Working With Power Tools: You understand you will want hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But how about the hobbyist building in his workshop? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists recommend wearing hearing protection if you’re utilizing power equipment.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require care. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s going directly into your ears. Consider using headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t need to crank up the volume to damaging levels.
- Commuting and Driving: Driving all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re taking the subway after waiting for a 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 term, particularly if you’re cranking up your music to hear it over the commotion.
- Domestic Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously mentioned, requires hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great illustration of the kind of household chore that could cause harm to your ears but that you probably don’t think about all that often.
- Exercise: Your morning cycling class is a good example. Or even your nighttime yoga session? All of these cases may call for ear protection. 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.
A good baseline may be established by these examples. If there is any doubt, though, wear protection. Instead of leaving your ears exposed to future harm, in most cases, it’s better to protect your ears. Protect today, hear tomorrow.