Have you ever gone to the beach and seen one of those “Beware of Shark” signs? It’s not hard to realize that you shouldn’t ignore a warning like that. A sign like that (especially if written in big, red letters) might even make you reconsider your swim altogether. But people don’t tend to heed warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Current research has found that millions of individuals disregard warning signs when it comes to their hearing (this research exclusively looked at populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s little doubt the problem is more global than that). Part of the problem is knowledge. Being afraid of sharks is rather instinctive. But being frightened of loud noise? And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?
We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Sounds
It’s not only the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your ears (although both of those venues are, without a doubt, harmful to your hearing). There are potential hazards with many common sounds. That’s because it’s not only the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also the duration. Your hearing can be damaged with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you’re exposed to it for more than two hours at a time.
Read on to find out when sound becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this volume level. At this level, there won’t be any limit to how long you can safely be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioning unit. This volume will usually become damaging after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. This amount of exposure gets hazardous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: This is the level of sound you might encounter at a mid-size sporting event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). This volume can become 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 volume. 5 minutes will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
- 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and damage can occur at or above this level (think about an arena sized sporting event or rock show).
What Does 85 Decibels Sound Like?
In general, you’re in the danger zone when you’re experiencing any sound 85 dB or higher. The issue is that it isn’t always apparent just how loud 85 dB is. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.
And that’s one of the reasons why hearing cautions often go ignored, specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. There are a couple of potential solutions to this:
- Adequate training and signage: This goes for workspaces, in particular. The significant hazards of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). Signage could also let you know just how loud your workspace is. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is recommended or required with appropriate training can be very helpful.
- Get an app: Your ears can’t be immediately protected with an app. But there are a few sound level metering apps. Damage to your hearing can occur without you realizing it because it’s hard to know just how loud 85 dB feels. Using this app to monitor noise levels, then, is the solution. Utilizing this strategy will make it more instinctual to distinguish when you are going into the “danger zone”. (and you will also discern immediately when things are getting too noisy).
If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself
Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof answer. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to safeguard your hearing. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can result in hearing loss. And these days, it’s never been easier to damage your ears (all you need to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too loud).
If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the half way. You require noise cancellation headphones if you are continually cranking up the volume to block out background noise.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to recognize when loud becomes too loud. Increasing your own understanding and recognition is the key if you want to do that. Safeguarding your ears, using earplugs, earmuffs, or reducing your exposure, is easy enough. That starts with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
That should be easier today, too. Especially now that you understand what to be aware of.
Schedule a hearing examination right away if you think you may be suffering from hearing loss.