Volume knob set to a safe level that won't harm your hearing.

Have you ever noticed the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you go to the ocean? It’s not exactly a warning you disregard. A warning like that (especially if written in large, red letters) might even make you reconsider your swim altogether. But people don’t tend to heed cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Recent studies have found that millions of people neglect warning signs regarding their hearing (this research specifically looked at populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s little doubt the problem is more global than that). Awareness is a big part of the problem. It’s pretty instinctive to be scared of sharks. But the majority of individuals don’t have an overt fear of loud sounds. And how do you know how loud is too loud?

Loud And Dangerous Sound is Everywhere Around us

It isn’t just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that are dangerous to your ears (not to minimize the hearing hazards of these situations). Many every-day sounds can be hazardous. That’s because the duration of sound is as harmful as the volume. Your hearing can be damaged with even low level noises like dense city traffic if you experience it for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Generally speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: This is the volume level you would expect of normal conversation. At this level, there won’t be any limit to how long you can safely be exposed.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and a lawnmower are at this volume. After about two hours this level of sound becomes harmful.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a practical illustration of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be unsafe at this volume.
  • 100 dB: This is the level of noise you might encounter at a mid-size sporting event or an approaching subway train (of course, this depends on the city). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up to max? That’s usually around this sound level on most smartphones. This level of exposure will become dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock show or exceptionally large sporting events) can produce immediate damage and pain in your ears.

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

Broadly speaking, you should consider anything 85 dB or higher as putting your hearing in the danger zone. But it can be difficult to recognize how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. A shark is a tangible thing but sound isn’t so tangible.

And hearing warnings often get neglected because of this specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of possible solutions:

  • Download an app: There isn’t an app that’s going to immediately protect your ears. But there are several sound level metering apps. Damage to your hearing can occur without you recognizing it because it’s hard to know just how loud 85 dB feels. The answer, then, is to have this app open and keep track of the sound levels near you. Utilizing this method will make it more instinctive to identify when you are moving into the “danger zone”. (and you will also discern right away when things are getting too noisy).
  • Adequate signage and training: This particularly refers to the workplace. The significant hazards of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the advantages of hearing protection). Signage could also let you know just how loud your workspace is. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is suggested or necessary with appropriate training can be very useful.

When in Doubt: Protect

No app and no signage will ever be flawless. So take the time to protect your ears if you have any 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 (all you need to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too high).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not increase the volume past the mid-mark. You require noise cancellation headphones if you are always cranking up the volume to block out background noise.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to accept it. And in order to do this, you need to increase your own awareness and knowledge level. Protecting your ears, wearing earplugs, earmuffs, or limiting your exposure, is pretty simple. That begins with a little recognition of when you should do it.

That should be easier nowadays, too. That’s even more accurate now that you have some awareness.

Think you could have hearing loss? Schedule a test.

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