You ever go to the beach and noticed one of those “Beware of Shark” warnings? It’s easy to understand that you should never dismiss a caution like that. You might even rethink swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). Inexplicably, though, it’s harder for people to listen to warnings about their hearing in the same way.
Current studies have found that millions of people disregard warning signs when it comes to their hearing (these studies exclusively considered populations in the UK, but there’s no doubt the concern is more global than that). Awareness is a big part of the issue. It’s fairly intuitive to be fearful of sharks. But the majority of individuals don’t have an overt fear of loud sounds. And the real question is, what volume level is too loud?
Loud And Dangerous Sound is Everywhere Around us
It’s not just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your ears (not to minimize the hearing hazards of these scenarios). There are potential risks with many every-day sounds. That’s because it’s not only the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also the duration. 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.
Generally speaking, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: This is the volume level you would find in normal conversation. You should be just fine around this volume for an indefinite length of time.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the sound level of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioning unit. This volume will normally become damaging after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. 50 minutes is enough to be dangerous at this volume.
- 100 dB: An approaching subway train or a mid-sized sports event are at this volume (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be unsafe at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up to max? On most smartphones, that’s about this volume. This amount of exposure becomes dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and injury can happen at or above this level (think about an arena sized sports event or rock show).
How Loud is 85 Decibels?
Generally, you should look at anything 85 dB or above as putting your ears at risk. But it can be hard to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the issue. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.
And that’s one of the reasons why hearing cautions commonly go neglected, when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is specifically true. There are a couple of potential solutions to this:
- Adequate signage and training: This is true of workspaces, in particular. Signage and training can help reinforce the significant hazards of hearing loss (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). Signage could also inform you just how loud your workplace is. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is suggested or required with proper training can be really helpful.
- Download an app: Your hearing can’t be immediately protected with an app. But there are a number of free apps that can work as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to determine what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be injured without you even knowing it. The answer, then, is to have this app working and monitor the noise levels near you. This will help you develop a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (and you will also discern immediately when things are getting too noisy).
If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself
No app and no signage will ever be 100%. So take the time to protect your ears if you are in doubt. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing issues. And it’s easier than it ever has been to harm your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).
You shouldn’t raise the volume past mid way, specifically if you’re listening all day. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background sound you should find different headphones that can block out noise.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to accept it. Increasing your own understanding and awareness is the answer if you want to do that. Protecting your ears, wearing ear protection, or limiting your exposure, is not that difficult. That starts with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
That should be easier nowadays, too. That’s even more accurate now that you have some insight.
Think you could have hearing loss? Schedule an exam.