Have you ever noticed the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you go to the ocean? It’s not exactly a warning you disregard. You may even rethink swimming at all with a sign like that (if the sign is written in big red letters that’s especially true). Inexplicably, though, it’s more challenging for people to listen to warnings about their hearing in the same way.
Recent studies have found that millions of individuals ignore warning signs regarding their hearing (this research specifically looked at populations in the UK, but there’s no doubt the concern is more global than that). Part of the problem is knowledge. Being afraid of sharks is rather instinctive. But being scared of loud noise? And how do you know how loud is too loud?
We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Noises
Your ears are not just in peril at a live concert or construction site (although both of those venues are, indeed, dangerous to your hearing). There are potential risks with many common sounds. That’s because exposure time is as harmful as the volume. Your hearing can be injured with even low level noises like dense city traffic if you’re exposed to it for more than a couple of hours at a time.
Generally, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this sound level. You should be perfectly fine at this volume for an indefinite length of time.
- 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and a lawnmower are at this level of sound. After around two hours this level of sound becomes damaging.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. This amount of exposure gets harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you might experience from a mid-size sports event or an approaching subway train (of course, this depends on the city). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Have you ever cranked your Spotify music up to max volume? On most smartphones, that’s right around this level. 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 (consider an arena sized sports event or rock show).
What Does 85 dB Sound Like?
In general, you’re in the danger zone when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or louder. But it can be hard to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.
And that’s one reason why hearing cautions often go neglected, when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is specifically true. Here are a couple of possible solutions:
- Adequate signage and training: This particularly relates to workspaces. The significant dangers of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). Also, just how loud your workplace is, can be made clear by signage. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is necessary or suggested.
- Get an app: Your hearing can’t be directly safeguarded with an app. But there are several free apps that can work as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to assess what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be injured without you even knowing it. The answer, then, is to have this app working and track the noise levels around you. This can help you develop a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (Or, the app will merely tell you when things get too loud).
If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself
Apps and signage aren’t a foolproof solution. So make the effort to protect your ears if you are in doubt. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing issues. And it’s easier than it ever has been to damage your ears (all you have to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too high).
If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the mid-mark. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background sound you need different headphones that have noise cancellation.
That’s why it’s more significant than ever to identify when the volume becomes too loud. Increasing your own knowledge and awareness is the answer if you want to do that. It’s not hard to reduce your exposure or at least use ear protection. But you have to know when to do it.
That should be easier today, too. That’s even more true now that you have some insight.
Schedule a hearing test today if you think you might be suffering from hearing loss.