Understanding you should safeguard your ears is one thing. Knowing when to safeguard your ears is a different story. It’s not as simple as, for example, knowing when to use sunblock. (Is it sunny and will you be outdoors? Then you need sunblock.) It’s not even as easy as determining when to use eye protection (Using a hammer? Working with a saw or hazardous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
It can feel as though there’s a huge grey area when addressing when to wear ear protection, and that can be dangerous. Unless we have specific information that some place or activity is dangerous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the issue altogether.
Assessing The Risks
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 prove the point, here are some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts roughly 3 hours.
- Person B runs a landscaping company. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might think the hearing danger is greater 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 show. Presuming Ann’s activity was hazardous to her hearing would be fair.
Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is subjected to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be safer for her ears, right? Well, not quite. Because Betty is mowing all day. Actually, the damage builds up a little bit at a time even though they don’t ring out. Even moderate noise, if experienced with enough frequency, can damage your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Lawnmowers come with instructions that point out the risks of ongoing exposure to noise. But even though Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute on the train every day is fairly loud. What’s more, she sits behind her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to consider protection?
When is it Time to Worry About Safeguarding Your Hearing?
Generally, you need to turn down the volume if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And if your environment is that noisy, you need to consider using earplugs or earmuffs.
So to put this a little more scientifically, you should use 85dB as your limit. Sounds above 85dB have the capacity to result in injury over time, so in those situation, you need to think about using ear protection.
Most hearing specialists recommend making use of a special app to keep track of decibel levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can tell you when the ambient noise is nearing a harmful level, and you can take suitable steps.
A Few Examples
Your phone might not be with you anywhere you go even if you do get the app. So we might formulate a good standard with a couple of examples of when to protect our hearing. Here we go:
- Exercise: Your morning spin class is a good example. Or maybe your nighttime Pilates session? You may consider using hearing protection to each. The high volume from trainers who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it may be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
- Commuting and Driving: Driving all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re riding 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 haul, especially if you’re cranking up your music to hear it over the din.
- Every day Chores: We already talked about how something as straightforward as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can require hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing impairment.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one requires caution, more than protection. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Consider getting headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t need to turn up the volume to damaging levels.
- Operating Power Tools: You recognize you will want hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But what if you’re simply working in your garage all day? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists recommend using hearing protection if you’re working with power equipment.
A strong baseline may be established by these examples. When in doubt, however, you should choose protection. In the majority of cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them exposed to possible damage down the road. Protect today, hear tomorrow.