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

Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not hard to understand that you should never dismiss a warning like that. You may even rethink swimming at all with a sign like that (if the sign is written in big red letters that’s especially true). But people usually don’t pay attention to cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Current studies have found that millions of people disregard warning signs regarding their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global problem, though this research was specifically conducted in the United Kingdom). Awareness is a huge part of the problem. It’s rather instinctive to be afraid of sharks. But fear of loud noise? And the real question is, what volume level is too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Hazardously Loud Sounds

It isn’t just the machine shop floor or rock concert that are dangerous to your hearing (not to downplay the hearing hazards of these situations). Many every-day sounds are potentially hazardous. That’s because exposure time is as harmful as the volume. Even lower-level noises, such as dense city traffic, can be damaging to your hearing if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.

keep reading to find out when sound gets too loud:

  • 30 dB: This is the sound level you would find in everyday conversation. At this level, there won’t be a limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
  • 80 – 85 dB: This is the sound level of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioning unit. This volume will usually become harmful after two hours of exposure.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good example of this sound level. This amount of exposure gets harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 100 dB: This is the level of sound you may experience from a mid-size sporting event or an approaching subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this volume.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever turned your Spotify music up to ten? On most smartphones, that’s about this level. 5 minutes will be enough to be dangerous at this level.
  • 120 dB and over: Instant pain and injury can happen at or above this volume (think about an arena sized sporting event or rock show).

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

Broadly speaking, you should consider anything 85 dB or louder 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 that’s one of the reasons why hearing warnings often go ignored, particularly when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of possible solutions:

  • Get an app: There isn’t an app that will immediately protect your ears. But there are several sound level metering apps. It’s difficult to judge what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be damaged without you even realizing it. The solution, then, is to have this app open and track the noise levels around you. This will help you develop a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (and you will also recognize immediately when things are getting too loud).
  • Sufficient signage and training: This especially pertains to the workplace. Training and signage can help reinforce the real risks of hearing loss (and the benefits of hearing protection). In addition, just how noisy your workplace is, can be clarified by signage. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is needed or recommended.

When in Doubt: Protect

Apps and signage aren’t a foolproof answer. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to protect your ears. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing issues. And it’s easier than ever to injure your ears (all you need to do is turn your earpods up a little too loud).

You shouldn’t increase the volume past mid way, especially if you’re listening all day. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background noise you should find different headphones that can block out noise.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to recognize it. And to do that, you need to increase your own recognition and knowledge level. It’s not hard to limit your exposure or at least wear hearing protection. That starts with a little recognition of when you should do it.

Today that should also be easier. That’s even more relevant now that you have some insight.

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