It’s one thing to recognize that you need to safeguard your hearing. It’s a different story to know when to protect your ears. It’s not as straight forward as, for example, knowing when to use sunscreen. (Are you going to go outside? Is the sun out? You need to be wearing sunblock.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is simpler (Doing some hammering? Cutting some wood or working with hazardous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
It can feel like there’s a significant grey area when addressing when to wear ear protection, and that can be detrimental. Unless we have particular information that some place or activity is dangerous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the issue entirely.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as permanent hearing problems or loss of hearing. Let’s take some examples to demonstrate the situation:
- Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. The concert lasts around 3 hours.
- A landscaping business is run by person B. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) might be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the concert with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, struggling to hear herself speak. It seems reasonable to assume that Ann’s recreation was rather risky.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is exposed to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be less hazardous for her hearing, right? Well, not really. Because Betty is pushing that mower all day. So despite the fact that her ears never ring out with pain, the damage accrues slowly. If experienced on a regular basis, even moderately loud sounds can have a negative affect on your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Lawnmowers come with instructions that emphasize the hazards of persistent exposure to noise. But although Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute through the city every day is rather loud. Also, although she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to think about protection?
When is it Time to Start Thinking About Protecting Your Ears?
In general, you need to turn down the volume if you have to shout to be heard. And you should think about using earplugs or earmuffs if your surroundings are that loud.
The limit needs to be 85dB if you want to get scientific. Noises above 85dB have the capacity to cause damage over time, so in those scenarios, you need to consider wearing ear protection.
Most hearing professionals suggest making use of a special app to monitor noise levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can let you know when the ambient noise is nearing a dangerous level, and you can take suitable steps.
A Few Examples
Your phone might not be with you wherever you go even if you do get the app. So a few examples of when to protect your ears may help you formulate a good standard. Here we go:
- Residential Chores: Even mowing a lawn, as previously mentioned, necessitates hearing protection. Chores, like mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing damage.
- Driving & Commuting: Driving all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or maybe you’re just hanging around downtown for work or boarding the train. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the extra damage caused by turning up your music to drown out the city noise.
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or perhaps your daily elliptical session. You may consider wearing hearing protection to each one. The high volume from instructors who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
- Operating Power Tools: You know that working every day at your factory job will necessitate hearing protection. But what if you’re just working in your garage all day? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists recommend using hearing protection if you’re working with power equipment.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, not protection. Whether your music is going directly into your ears, how loud it’s playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you need to give consideration to. Noise-canceling headphones are a good choice to prevent having to turn the volume way up.
A good baseline may be established by these examples. When in doubt, however, you should choose protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them subject to possible harm down the road. Protect today, hear tomorrow.