Knowing you need to protect your ears is one thing. Knowing when to protect your ears is a different story. It’s more challenging than, let’s say, recognizing when you need sunblock. (Are you going to go outside? Is there sunlight? You need to be wearing sunscreen.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is easier (Using a hammer? Cutting some wood or working with dangerous chemicals? Use eye protection).
It can feel like there’s a huge grey area when addressing when to use hearing 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 problem altogether.
A Tale of Risk Assessment
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as injury to the ears or the risk of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. To demonstrate the situation, check out some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts approximately 3 hours.
- Person B has a landscaping company. She spends a considerable amount of time mowing lawns, then goes home to a quiet house and reads.
- Person C is an office worker.
You may presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) might be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the concert with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend most of the next day, struggling to hear herself talk. Assuming Ann’s activity was risky to her hearing would be sensible.
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 must be less hazardous for her hearing, right? Well, not exactly. Because Betty is mowing every day. Actually, the damage accumulates a little bit at a time although they don’t ring out. If experienced on a regular basis, even moderately loud noise can have a negative affect on your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less evident. Lawnmowers come with instructions that point out the hazards of continued exposure to noise. But even though Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute each day through the city. Also, even though she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to give some thought to protection?
When is it Time to be Concerned About Protecting Your Ears?
Generally, you should turn down the volume if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And if your surroundings are that noisy, you really should consider wearing earmuffs or earplugs.
So to put this a bit more scientifically, you need to use 85dB as your limit. Noises above 85dB have the capacity to result in injury over time, so in those scenarios, you need to consider wearing ear protection.
Your ears don’t have their own sound level meter to alert you when you reach that 85dB level, so countless hearing specialists recommend downloading special apps for your phone. You will be able to take the required steps to safeguard your ears because these apps will tell you when the noise is approaching a harmful volume.
A Few Examples
Your phone might not be with you anywhere you go even if you do download the app. So a few examples of when to safeguard your ears might help you establish a good baseline. Here we go:
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one requires caution, not protection. Give consideration to how loud the music is, how long you’re listening to it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Think about getting headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t have to crank up the sound to damaging levels.
- Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or even your evening yoga session? All of these examples might require ear protection. Those trainers who make use of microphones and sound systems (and loud music) to motivate you might be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your ears.
- Household Chores: Even mowing a lawn, as previously stated, calls for hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great illustration of the kind of household task that might cause harm to your ears but that you probably won’t think about all that often.
- Working With Power Tools: You recognize you will require hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But how about the hobbyist building in his workshop? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists recommend using hearing protection if you’re working with power equipment.
- Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re just hanging out downtown for work or boarding the train. The constant noise of living in the city, when experienced for 6-8 hours a day, can cause damage to your ears over the long haul, especially if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the din.
These examples might give you a good baseline. When in doubt, though, you should defer to protection. Compared to leaving your ears exposed to future injury, in most instances, it’s better to protect your ears. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.