Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not exactly a warning you ignore. You may even think twice about swimming at all with a sign like that (if the sign is written in big red letters that’s especially true). But people usually don’t heed warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Recent studies have found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs regarding their hearing (there’s little doubt that this is a global problem, though these studies were exclusively conducted in the United Kingdom). Part of the issue is knowledge. It’s rather instinctive to be scared of sharks. But most people don’t have an overt fear of loud sounds. And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?
We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Noises
It isn’t just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that are dangerous to your ears (although both of those venues are, without a doubt, dangerous to your hearing). There are potential risks with many every-day sounds. That’s because exposure time is as harmful as the volume. Your hearing can be harmed with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you’re exposed to it for more than a couple of hours at a time.
keep reading to find out when sound gets too loud:
- 30 dB: This is the volume level you would expect of everyday conversation. At this volume, there won’t be a limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the sound level of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioner. This volume will normally become harmful after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. This amount of exposure becomes harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: An oncoming subway train or a mid-sized sporting event are at this volume (of course, this depends on the city). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be harmful at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up to max? On most smartphones, that’s right around this level. This level of exposure will become dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock show or exceptionally large sporting events) can bring about immediate injury and pain in your ears.
What Does 85 Decibels Sound Like?
Generally, you should consider anything 85 dB or louder as putting your ears in the danger zone. But it can be difficult to recognize how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.
And that’s one of the reasons why hearing cautions commonly go ignored, when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is particularly true. Here are a couple of potential solutions:
- Suitable signage and training: This refers to workspaces, in particular. The real dangers of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). Signage could also make it clear just how loud your workplace is. Helping employees know when hearing protection is recommended or required with appropriate training can be very helpful.
- Download an app: Your ears can’t be directly protected with an app. But there are a few sound level metering apps. It’s hard to judge what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be damaged without you even realizing it. The solution, then, is to have this app open and track the noise levels around you. Utilizing this strategy will make it more instinctual to recognize when you are going into the “danger zone”. (and you will also discern right away when things are getting too loud).
If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself
Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof answer. So when in doubt, take the time to safeguard your ears. Noise damage, over a long enough period of time, can bring about hearing loss. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to harm your ears (it’s a simple matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).
If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the half way. If you keep turning it up to hear your music over background noise you should find different headphones that can block out noise.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to accept it. Raising your own understanding and awareness is the answer if you want to do that. Safeguarding your ears, using ear protection, or decreasing your exposure, is not that difficult. That starts with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
That should be easier these days, too. That’s even more true now that you have some awareness.
Think you could have hearing loss? Schedule an exam.