Realizing you should safeguard your ears is one thing. Recognizing when to safeguard your ears is a different story. It’s not as simple as, for example, recognizing when to wear sunscreen. (Are you going to go outdoors? Is there sunlight? You should be using sunscreen.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is simpler (Working with dangerous chemicals? Doing some building? You need to wear eye protection).
It can feel as though there’s a significant grey area when addressing when to wear ear protection, and that can be detrimental. Frequently, we’ll defer to our normal inclination to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a particular place or activity is dangerous.
Determining The Risks
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as lasting hearing problems or hearing loss. To prove the point, check out some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. 3 hours is around the length of the concert.
- Person B has a landscaping company. 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 formal) might be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the show with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend most of the next day, struggling to hear herself talk. It seems fair to presume that Ann’s recreation was rather hazardous.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is exposed to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So her hearing must be less hazardous, right? Not really. Because Betty is pushing that mower all day. In reality, the damage builds up a little bit at a time despite the fact that they don’t ring out. Even moderate noise, if experienced with enough frequency, can injury your ears.
What’s happening with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even tougher to sort out. Lawnmowers have instructions that point out the hazards of continued exposure to noise. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a very noisy, hour-long commute every day through the city. Additionally, even though she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should think about?
When is it Time to Worry About Safeguarding Your Ears?
The standard rule of thumb is that if you have to raise your voice in order to be heard, your surroundings are loud enough to do injure to your hearing. And you need to think about using earplugs or earmuffs if your environment is that noisy.
If you want to think about this a little more clinically, you should use 85dB as your cutoff. Sounds above 85dB have the ability to result in injury over time, so in those scenarios, you need to think about using ear protection.
Your ears don’t have their own sound level meter to alert you when you reach that 85dB level, so many hearing professionals suggest getting specialized apps for your phone. These apps can show you when the surrounding noise is nearing a hazardous level, and you can take proper steps.
A Few Examples
Even if you do download that app and bring it with you, your phone may not be with you wherever you go. So we may formulate a good standard with a few examples of when to safeguard our hearing. Here we go:
- Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re taking the subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the extra injury caused by turning up your tunes to drown out the city noise.
- Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or maybe your daily elliptical session. You may consider wearing hearing protection to each one. Those trainers who use sound systems and microphones (and loud music) to motivate you may be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your ears.
- Working With Power Tools: You recognize you will need hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But what if you’re just puttering around your garage all day? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists recommend using hearing protection if you’re utilizing power equipment.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, not protection. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Consider getting headphones that cancel out outside sound so you don’t have to crank up the sound to hazardous levels.
- Residential Chores: We already discussed how something as simple as mowing the lawn, when done frequently, can require hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a good example of the kind of household job that could cause harm to your hearing but that you probably don’t think about all that often.
These examples might give you a suitable baseline. When in doubt, though, you should choose protection. In the majority of cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them subject to possible damage in the future. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.