Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

Knowing you need to protect your hearing is one thing. It’s a different story to know when to protect your hearing. It’s not as straight forward as, for example, recognizing when to use sunblock. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outside? Then you need sunblock.) It’s not even as simple as knowing when to wear eye protection (Doing some hammering? Working with a saw or hazardous chemicals? Use eye protection).

With regards to when to use hearing protection, there seems to be a huge grey area which can be risky. Unless we have specific information that some activity or place is hazardous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the problem entirely.

Determining The Risks

In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as lasting hearing problems or hearing loss. Let’s take 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. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
  • Person C works in an office.

You might think the hearing danger is higher for person A (let’s just call her Ann). Ann leaves the show with ringing ears, and she’ll spend most of the next day, struggling to hear herself talk. It seems reasonable to presume that Ann’s activity was quite hazardous.

Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So her ears must be less hazardous, right? Well, not exactly. Because Betty is riding that mower all day. In reality, the damage builds up a little bit at a time despite the fact that they don’t ring out. Even moderate noise, if experienced regularly, can injury your hearing.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less obvious. Lawnmowers have instructions that indicate the risks of persistent exposure to noise. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute each day through the city. Also, although she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to give some thought to protection?

When is it Time to Worry About Protecting Your Hearing?

The standard rule of thumb is that if you have to raise your voice to be heard, your surroundings are noisy enough to do harm to your ears. And if your surroundings are that noisy, you should consider using earmuffs or earplugs.

If you want to think about this a bit more scientifically, you need to use 85dB as your limit. Noises above 85dB have the potential to result in damage over time, so you need to give consideration to wearing hearing protection in those conditions.

Most hearing specialists suggest making use of a specialized app to monitor decibel levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be able to take the necessary steps to protect your ears because these apps will tell you when the sound is reaching a harmful volume.

A Few Examples

Even if you do get that app and bring it with you, your phone might not be with you everywhere you go. So we may develop a good standard with a couple of examples of when to protect our ears. Here we go:

  • Operating Power Tools: You understand that working every day at your factory job is going to require hearing protection. But what if you’re simply working in your garage all day? Most hearing specialists will suggest you use hearing protection when operating power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist basis.
  • Residential Chores: We already talked about how something as simple as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can necessitate hearing protection. Chores, like mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can lead to hearing damage.
  • Exercise: Your morning spin class is a great example. Or even your nighttime workout session? You may think about using hearing protection to each. Those trainers who use microphones and sound systems (and loud music) to motivate you may be good for your heart rate, but all that loudness is bad for your hearing.
  • Driving & Commuting: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re riding the subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the added damage caused by turning up your tunes to drown out the city noise.
  • 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 great choice to steer clear of having to turn the volume way up.

These illustrations might give you a good baseline. When in doubt, however, you should choose protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them subject to possible injury in the future. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.

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