Understanding you need to protect your hearing is one thing. Knowing when to protect your ears is another matter. It’s not as easy as, for example, determining when to wear sunscreen. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outside? Then you need sunblock.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is simpler (Using a hammer? Cutting some wood or working with dangerous chemicals? Use eye protection).
It can feel as though there’s a significant grey area when dealing with when to use hearing protection, and that can be dangerous. Unless we have particular knowledge that some place or activity is hazardous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the issue altogether.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as damage to the ears or the risk of permanent sensorineural hearing loss. Let’s take some examples to prove the point:
- Person A attends a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is around how long the concert lasts.
- Person B runs a landscaping business. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home and quietly reads a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You might presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) might be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the performance with ringing ears, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, trying to hear herself talk. It seems fair to presume that Ann’s activity was very risky.
Person B (let’s just call her Betty), on the other hand, is subjected to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be less hazardous for her ears, right? Well, not exactly. Because Betty is mowing all day. So despite the fact that her ears don’t ring out with pain, the harm accrues bit by bit. Even moderate noise, if experienced with enough frequency, can harm your hearing.
What’s going on with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even harder to make sense of. Most people understand that you need to protect your ears while using machines such as a lawnmower. But despite the fact that Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute on the train every day is fairly loud. In addition, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to consider protection?
When is it Time to Worry About Protecting Your Hearing?
Generally speaking, you should turn down the volume if you have to shout to be heard. And if your environment is that noisy, you need to consider wearing earmuffs or earplugs.
The cutoff should be 85dB if you want to get scientific. Sounds above 85dB have the ability to cause damage over time, so you need to consider using hearing protection in those situations.
Most hearing specialists advise getting a specialized app to monitor decibel levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the required steps to safeguard your hearing because these apps will tell you when the noise is approaching a hazardous 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 may help you develop a good baseline. Here we go:
- Exercise: Your morning cycling class is a great example. Or maybe your evening workout session? You might consider wearing hearing protection to each. Those trainers who use 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 hearing.
- Household 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 sort of household task that might cause injury to your hearing but that you probably won’t think about all that often.
- Driving & Commuting: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or maybe you’re taking a subway after waiting for a while downtown. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the added injury caused by cranking up your music to drown out the city noise.
- Working With Power Tools: You recognize that working all day at your factory job is going to require hearing protection. But what if you’re simply puttering around your garage all day? Most hearing professionals will suggest you use hearing protection when operating power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist basis.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, not protection. Whether your music is playing directly into your ears, how loud it’s playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you should give consideration to. Noise-canceling headphones are a great choice to avoid having to turn the volume way up.
A good baseline might be established by these examples. When in doubt, however, you should choose protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them exposed to possible damage in the future. Protect today, hear tomorrow.