Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you go to the ocean? It’s easy to realize that you should never disregard a warning like that. You might even reconsider 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.
Current research has found that millions of people neglect warning signs when it comes to their hearing (this research exclusively looked at populations in the UK, but there’s no doubt the concern is more global than that). Part of the issue is awareness. It’s fairly intuitive to be scared of sharks. But the majority of 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 Sounds
It isn’t only the machine shop floor or rock concert that are dangerous to your hearing (not to minimize the hearing hazards of these situations). There are potential dangers with many common sounds. That’s because it isn’t only the volume of a sound that presents a danger; it’s also the duration. Even lower-level sounds, like dense city traffic, can be harmful to your ears if you are exposed for more than two hours.
Broadly speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this volume level. You should be just fine around this volume for an indefinite period.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioning unit. This volume will normally become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. This level of exposure gets hazardous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: This is the amount of sound you might experience from a mid-size sports event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up to max? That’s usually around this volume on most smartphones. This level of exposure will become dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and injury can occur at or above this volume (think about an arena sized sports event or rock concert).
How Loud is 85 Decibels?
Generally, you should regard anything 85 dB or louder as putting your hearing in the danger zone. But it can be hard to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. A shark is a tangible thing but sound isn’t so tangible.
And hearing warnings commonly go ignored for this reason when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is specifically true. Here are a couple of potential solutions:
- Download an app: There isn’t an app that will directly protect your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to judge what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be injured without you even realizing it. Using this app to monitor sound levels, then, is the answer. This can help you develop a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (Or, the app will merely tell you when things get too loud).
- Sufficient training and signage: This particularly pertains to workspaces. Signage and training can help reinforce the significant dangers of hearing loss (and the benefits of hearing protection). Signage could also inform you just how noisy your workspace is. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is recommended or required with appropriate training can be very useful.
If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself
No signage or app will ever be flawless. So take the time to safeguard your hearing if you have any doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can lead to hearing loss. And it’s easier than it ever has been to harm your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your music too loudly).
You shouldn’t raise the volume past mid way, particularly if you’re listening all day. You need noise cancellation headphones if you are continually turning up the volume to cover up background sound.
That’s the reason why it’s more significant than ever to acknowledge when the volume becomes too loud. And in order to do this, you need to increase your own awareness and knowledge level. It’s not difficult to reduce your exposure or at least use hearing protection. But you have to know when to do it.
These days that should also be easier. That’s even more relevant now that you have some awareness.
Schedule a hearing test today if you think you may be suffering from hearing loss.