Have you ever gone to the beach and noticed one of those “Beware of Shark” warnings? It’s easy to realize that you should never ignore a caution like that. A sign like that (specifically if written in huge, red letters) might even make you rethink your swim altogether. Inexplicably, though, it’s difficult for people to heed warnings about their hearing in the same way.
Recent studies have found that millions of individuals ignore warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global challenge, though these studies were specifically done in the UK). Awareness is a big part of the problem. It’s rather intuitive to be afraid of sharks. But fear of loud noise? And how do you know how loud is too loud?
We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Sounds
It isn’t only the machine shop floor or rock concert that are dangerous to your ears (not to downplay the hearing hazards of these situations). Many every-day sounds are potentially hazardous. That’s because the duration of sound is as harmful as the volume. Even lower-level sounds, like dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your hearing when experienced for more than two hours.
Broadly speaking, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this volume level. At this level, there won’t be any limit to how long you can safely be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the sound level of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioner. This volume will normally become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a practical example of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be harmful at this volume.
- 100 dB: An approaching subway train or a mid-sized sports event are at this volume (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 cranked your Spotify music up to max volume? On most smartphones, that’s right around this volume. This level of exposure is dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Any sound over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or extremely large sporting events) can produce instant damage and pain in your ears.
How Loud is 85 Decibels?
Generally speaking, you’re in the danger zone when you’re experiencing any sound 85 dB or louder. The issue is that it isn’t always apparent just how loud 85 dB is. It’s not tangible in the way that a shark is tangible.
And hearing cautions commonly go ignored for this reason specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. There are a couple of possible solutions to this:
- Get an app: There isn’t an app that will immediately safeguard your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can work as sound level monitors. Damage to your ears can happen without you recognizing it because it’s difficult to recognize just how loud 85 dB feels. Making use of this app to monitor sound levels, then, is the answer. This will help you establish a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (and you will also recognize immediately when things are getting too noisy).
- Suitable training and signage: This particularly refers to the workplace. The significant risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the advantages of hearing protection). In addition, just how loud your workplace is, can be clarified by signage. Training can tell employees when hearing protection is needed or suggested.
When in Doubt: Protect
Apps and signage aren’t a foolproof solution. So make the effort to safeguard your hearing if you have any doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough period of time, can lead to hearing loss. And it’s easier than it ever has been to injure your ears (all you have to do is turn your earpods up a little too loud).
You shouldn’t increase the volume past mid way, specifically if you’re listening all day. If you keep turning it up to hear your music over background sound you need different headphones that have noise cancellation.
That’s why it’s more essential than ever to identify when loud becomes too loud. Raising your own knowledge and awareness is the answer if you want to do that. It isn’t difficult to reduce your exposure or at least use hearing protection. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
That should be easier these days, too. Particularly now that you understand what to be aware of.
Schedule a hearing examination right away if you think you may be suffering from hearing loss.