It’s one thing to realize that you need to safeguard your hearing. It’s another matter to know when to safeguard your ears. It’s more challenging than, for example, recognizing when you need sunblock. (Is it sunny and will you be outdoors? Then you need sunscreen.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is simpler (Working with dangerous chemicals? Doing some building? You need to wear eye protection).
With regards to when to wear hearing protection, there seems to be a large grey area which can be risky. Unless we have specific knowledge that some activity or place is hazardous we tend to take the easy path which is to avoid the issue altogether.
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 probability of permanent sensorineural hearing loss. To prove the point, check out some examples:
- Person A attends a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is around the length of the concert.
- 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.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) may be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the performance with ringing ears, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, struggling to hear herself speak. Assuming Ann’s activity was risky to her hearing would be reasonable.
Person B (let’s just call her Betty), on the other hand, is subjected to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So her hearing must be less hazardous, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing all day. So despite the fact that her ears never ring out with pain, the damage builds up slowly. If experienced every day, even moderately loud noises can have a damaging affect on your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Lawnmowers have instructions that indicate the dangers of long-term exposure to noise. But even though Chris works in a quiet office, she has a very noisy, hour-long commute every day through the city. Additionally, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to think about protection?
When You Should be Concerned About Protecting Your Hearing
Generally, you should turn down the volume if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And if your surroundings are that loud, you need to consider wearing earplugs or earmuffs.
The limit should be 85dB if you want to be scientific. Noises above 85dB have the capacity, over time, to result in damage, so you should give consideration to using hearing protection in those situations.
Many hearing specialists advise getting a special app to monitor decibel levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the necessary steps to protect your hearing because these apps will tell you when the noise is reaching a hazardous volume.
A Few Examples
Even if you do get that app and bring it with you, your phone may not be with you wherever you go. So a few examples of when to protect your ears might help you develop a good baseline. Here we go:
- Commuting and Driving: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re just hanging around downtown for work or getting on the train. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your hearing, not to mention the added injury caused by cranking up your music to drown out the city noise.
- Exercise: Your morning cycling class is a perfect example. Or maybe your daily elliptical session. Each of these cases might call for ear protection. Those instructors who use sound systems and microphones (and loud music) to motivate you might be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your hearing.
- Residential Chores: Even mowing a lawn, as previously stated, calls for hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a good example of the type of household task that might cause injury to your ears but that you probably won’t think about all that often.
- Working With Power Tools: You understand you will require hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But how about the enthusiast building in his garage? Most hearing professionals will recommend you wear hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist level.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require caution. Whether your music is playing directly into your ears, how loud it is playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you need to pay attention to. Noise-canceling headphones are a great choice to prevent having to turn the volume way up.
A strong baseline might be established by these examples. If there is any doubt, though, wear protection. Compared to leaving your ears exposed to future harm, in most instances, it’s better to protect your ears. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.