Realizing you need to safeguard your ears is one thing. It’s another matter to know when to safeguard your ears. It’s not as straight forward as, for example, knowing when to use sunblock. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outside? Then you need sunblock.) It’s not even as easy as knowing when to use eye protection (Doing some hammering? Working with a saw or dangerous chemicals? Use eye protection).
When it comes to when to use hearing protection, there seems to be a huge grey area which can be risky. Unless we have particular knowledge that some activity or place is dangerous we tend to take the easy path which is to avoid the issue entirely.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as injury to the ears or the risk of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. Let’s take some examples to prove the point:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts roughly 3 hours.
- A landscaping company is run by person B. She spends a significant amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) may be in more hearing danger. For most of the next day, her ears will still be screeching from the loud concert. It seems rational to assume that Ann’s activity was quite risky.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So her hearing must be less hazardous, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing all day. Actually, the damage accumulates a little bit at a time despite the fact that they don’t ring out. Even moderate noise, if experienced with enough frequency, can harm your hearing.
What’s occurring with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even harder to make sense of. Lawnmowers have instructions that emphasize the risks of long-term exposure to noise. But despite the fact that Chris has a fairly quiet job, her long morning commute through the city every day is rather loud. Additionally, 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 Think About Safeguarding Your Hearing
The standard rule of thumb is that if you need to raise your voice in order to be heard, your surroundings are loud enough to do damage to your ears. And you should consider wearing earmuffs or earplugs if your environment is that noisy.
The cutoff should be 85dB if you want to get clinical. Noises above 85dB have the potential to cause injury over time, so in those circumstances, you should consider using ear protection.
Your ears don’t have a built-in decibel meter to warn you when you reach that 85dB level, so most hearing professionals suggest obtaining specialized apps for your phone. These apps can tell you when the surrounding sound is nearing a dangerous level, and you can take suitable steps.
A Few Examples
Even if you do download that app and take it with you, your phone might not be with you wherever you go. So a few examples of when to protect your ears might help you establish a good standard. Here we go:
- Working With Power Tools: You know that working every day at your factory job is going to necessitate ear protection. But what if you’re just puttering around your garage all day? Even if it’s only a hobby, hearing specialists suggest using hearing protection if you’re working with power equipment.
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or even your evening Pilates session? Each of these cases may require ear protection. Those trainers who use sound systems and microphones (and loud music) to motivate you might be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your ears.
- Domestic Chores: We already mentioned how something as simple as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can call for hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a good example of the type of household job that may cause harm to your hearing but that you probably don’t think about all that often.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, more than protection. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a great choice to avoid needing to turn the volume way up.
- Driving & Commuting: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re just waiting downtown for work or boarding the train. The constant noise of city living, when experienced for between 6 and 8 hours every day, can cause injury to your ears over the long term, particularly if you’re cranking up your music to hear it over the commotion.
These illustrations might give you a suitable baseline. If there is any doubt, however, wear protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them subject to possible damage down the road. Protect today, hear tomorrow.