Realizing you should protect your ears is one thing. It’s another matter to know when to safeguard your hearing. It’s not as easy as, for example, determining when to use sunblock. (Are you going to go outside? Is there sunlight? You need to be using sunscreen.) It isn’t even as easy as recognizing when to wear eye protection (Using a hammer? Cutting some wood or working with hazardous chemicals? Wear eye protection).
When dealing with when to wear hearing protection, there seems to be a huge grey area which can be dangerous. Frequently, we’ll defer to our natural tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a particular activity or place is dangerous.
A Tale of Risk Analysis
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 possibility of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. Here are some examples to demonstrate the situation:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts approximately 3 hours.
- A landscaping business is run by person B. She spends a considerable amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You may believe the hearing hazard is greater for person A (let’s just call her Ann). 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 hazardous to her ears would be sensible.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be less hazardous for her hearing, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing all day. So despite the fact that her ears don’t ring out with pain, the harm builds up gradually. Even moderate noise, if experienced regularly, can harm your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less obvious. Most individuals realize that you need to protect your ears while using machines such as a lawnmower. But even though Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute on the train each day is quite loud. What’s more, she sits behind her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Is protection something she should think about?
When is it Time to Start to Consider About Protecting Your Hearing?
The normal guideline is that if you need to raise your voice to be heard, your surroundings are noisy enough to do damage to your ears. And you should think about using earmuffs or earplugs if your surroundings are that noisy.
If you want to think about this a bit more clinically, you should use 85dB as your cutoff. Noises above 85dB have the potential to cause damage over time, so in those scenarios, you need to think about using ear protection.
Most hearing specialists advise getting a special app to keep track of decibel levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the appropriate steps to safeguard your ears because these apps will tell you when the noise is reaching a hazardous volume.
A Few Examples
Even if you do download that app and bring it with you, your phone might not be with you wherever you go. So we might develop a good standard with a couple of examples of when to safeguard our ears. Here we go:
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require care. Give consideration to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s going directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a good choice to prevent needing to turn the volume way up.
- Exercise: Your morning spin class is a great example. Or even your evening Pilates session? You may consider wearing hearing protection to each one. Those trainers who make use of sound systems and microphones (and loud music) to motivate you might be good for your heart rate, but all that loudness is bad for your hearing.
- Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or maybe you’re just hanging out downtown for work or boarding the train. The constant noise of city living, when experienced for between 6 and 8 hours a day, can cause injury to your ears over the long term, specifically if you’re cranking up your music to hear it over the din.
- Household Chores: We already mentioned how something as simple as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can necessitate hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great illustration of the sort of household job that could cause injury to your ears but that you probably won’t think about all that often.
- Working With Power Tools: You understand that working every day at your factory job is going to call for hearing protection. But how about the hobbyist building in his garage? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists suggest using hearing protection if you’re utilizing power equipment.
A good baseline might be researched by these examples. When in doubt, though, you should defer to protection. Instead of leaving your ears exposed to future injury, in most situations, it’s better to protect your hearing. Protect today, hear tomorrow.