You ever go to the beach and noticed one of those “Beware of Shark” warnings? It’s easy to realize that you should never disregard a warning like that. You may even reconsider swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). But people usually don’t pay attention to warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Recent research has found that millions of individuals ignore warning signs regarding their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global problem, though these studies were exclusively conducted in the United Kingdom). Part of the problem is awareness. It’s rather intuitive to be fearful of sharks. But most people don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?
We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Noises
Your hearing isn’t just in danger at a rock concert or construction site (not to downplay the hearing hazards of these scenarios). Many every-day sounds are potentially dangerous. That’s because exposure time is as hazardous as the volume. Even lower-level noises, such as dense city traffic, can be damaging to your ears if you are exposed for more than two hours.
Generally, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this volume level. You should be just fine around this volume for an indefinite period.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioning unit. This level of sound will usually become harmful after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. 50 minutes is enough to be dangerous at this volume.
- 100 dB: This is the level of sound you might encounter at a mid-size sports event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Have you ever turned your Spotify music up to max volume? That’s usually around this volume on most smartphones. This amount of exposure becomes dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Any sound over 120 dB (think loud rock show or exceptionally large sporting events) can bring about instant damage and pain in your ears.
What Does 85 Decibels Sound Like?
Generally, you should look at anything 85 dB or above as putting your ears in danger. But it can be hard to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.
And hearing warnings frequently get neglected because of this when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is specifically true. Here are a couple of potential solutions:
- Download an app: There isn’t an app that will directly protect your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can work as sound level monitors. Injury to your ears can happen without you realizing it because it’s tough to know just how loud 85 dB feels. The solution, then, is to have this app open and monitor the noise levels near you. Using this strategy will make it more instinctive to identify when you are moving into the “danger zone”. (and you will also recognize immediately when things are getting too noisy).
- Sufficient training and signage: This particularly refers to workspaces. The real risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). Signage could also let you know just how noisy your workspace is. Helping employees know when hearing protection is recommended or required with proper training can be very helpful.
When in Doubt: Protect
No app and no signage will ever be perfect. So take the time to protect your ears if you have any doubt. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing issues. And it’s easier than ever to harm your ears (all you need to do is turn your earpods up a little too high).
If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the half way. If you keep turning it up to hear your music over background sound you need different headphones that can block out noise.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to accept it. And to do that, you need to increase your own recognition and knowledge level. Protecting your ears, wearing earplugs, earmuffs, or reducing your exposure, is easy enough. But you have to know when to do it.
That should be easier nowadays, too. Particularly now that you know what to be aware of.
Think you could have hearing loss? Schedule an exam.