Volume knob set to a safe level that won't harm your hearing.

Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you go to the ocean? It’s not exactly a sign you ignore. A warning like that (specifically if written in large, red letters) might even make you rethink your swim altogether. But people usually don’t pay attention to cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Current studies have found that millions of individuals ignore warning signs when it comes to their hearing (these studies exclusively looked at populations in the UK, but there’s little doubt the concern is more global than that). Part of the issue is knowledge. To be afraid of sharks is pretty instinctive. But most people don’t have an overt fear of loud sounds. And the real question is, what volume level is too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Hazardously Loud Noises

It isn’t only the machine shop floor or rock concert that are dangerous to your ears (although both of those situations are, indeed, harmful to your hearing). There are potential risks with many every-day sounds. That’s because it’s not only the volume of a sound that presents a danger; it’s also the duration. Even lower-level noises, like dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your hearing if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.

Generally, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this volume level. You should be perfectly fine at this volume for an indefinite time period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and lawn equipment are at this level of sound. This volume will normally become dangerous 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 amount of noise you may experience from a mid-size sports event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). This level of sound can become dangerous after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever turned your Spotify music up to ten? On most smartphones, that’s about this level. This amount of exposure is dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Any sound over 120 dB (think loud rock show or extremely large sports events) can result in instant damage and pain in your ears.

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

In general, you should consider anything 85 dB or higher as putting your ears at risk. 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 hearing cautions often go ignored for this reason especially when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of possible solutions:

  • Suitable training and signage: This particularly relates to the workplace. The significant dangers of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the advantages of hearing protection). Signage could also let you know just how loud your workplace is. Training can tell employees when hearing protection is necessary or recommended.
  • Get an app: Your hearing can’t be immediately protected with an app. But there are several free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s hard to assess what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be injured without you even realizing it. Utilizing this app to keep track of sound levels, then, is the solution. Utilizing this approach will make it more instinctive to distinguish when you are moving into the “danger zone”. (Or, the app will merely alert you to when things get too noisy).

When in Doubt: Protect

No app and no signage will ever be flawless. So make the effort to safeguard your ears if you are in doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can result in hearing loss. And these days, it’s never been easier to injure your ears (all you need to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too high).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not increase the volume past the half way. You need noise cancellation headphones if you are constantly cranking up the volume to cover up background sound.

That’s the reason why it’s more significant than ever to acknowledge when the volume becomes too loud. Increasing your own knowledge and recognition is the key if you want to do that. It’s not difficult to limit your exposure or at least wear hearing protection. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.

That should be easier nowadays, too. That’s even more relevant now that you have some awareness.

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