It’s one thing to realize that you should protect your hearing. It’s a different story to know when to protect your hearing. It’s harder than, for example, knowing when you need sunblock. (Are you going to go outdoors? Is the sun out? You should be using sunscreen.) It’s not even as easy as determining when to wear eye protection (Handling dangerous chemicals? Doing some construction? You need eye protection).
When dealing with when to use hearing protection, there seems to be a big grey area which can be dangerous. Usually, we’ll defer to our normal inclination to avoid hearing protection unless we have information that a specific activity or place is hazardous.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as lasting hearing damage or loss of hearing. To prove the point, here are some examples:
- Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is around how long the concert lasts.
- A landscaping business is run by person B. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) may be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the show with ringing ears, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, trying to hear herself speak. Presuming Ann’s activity was hazardous to her hearing would be sensible.
Person B (let’s just call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be less hazardous for her hearing, right? Well, not exactly. Because Betty is riding that mower every day. So despite the fact that her ears never ring out with pain, the damage builds up little by little. Even moderate noise, if experienced regularly, can injury your hearing.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. The majority of people recognize that you need to safeguard your ears while using machines like a lawnmower. But even though Chris has a fairly quiet job, her long morning commute through the city each day is rather loud. Also, even though she works at her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should think about?
When You Should be Concerned About Safeguarding Your Ears
Generally, you need to turn down the volume if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And you really should think about using earplugs or earmuffs if your surroundings are that loud.
If you want to think about this a bit more scientifically, you should use 85dB as your limit. Sounds above 85dB have the capacity, over time, to cause damage, so in those circumstances, you need to consider using hearing protection.
Many hearing professionals advise making use of a special app to keep track of decibel levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the required steps to protect your ears because these apps will inform you when the noise is getting to a dangerous level.
A Few Examples
Your phone may not be with you wherever you go even if you do get the app. So a few examples of when to protect your ears might help you establish a good baseline. Here we go:
- Using Power Tools: You recognize you will need hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But what if you’re simply working in your garage all day? Most hearing specialists will suggest you use hearing protection when working with power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist level.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t require protection but does require caution. 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 prevent needing to turn the volume way up.
- Domestic Chores: We already discussed how something as straightforward as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can necessitate hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a good illustration of the kind of household chore that might cause damage to your hearing but that you probably don’t think about all that often.
- Commuting and Driving: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or maybe you’re just hanging around downtown for work or boarding 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 tunes to drown out the city noise.
- Exercise: Your morning spin class is a good example. Or even your evening yoga session? You may consider wearing hearing protection to each. Those trainers who make use of sound systems and microphones (and loud music) to motivate you may be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your ears.
These illustrations may give you a suitable baseline. When in doubt, though, you should choose protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them exposed to possible damage in the future. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.