Realizing you should safeguard your ears is one thing. Knowing when to protect your ears is a different story. It’s more challenging than, for example, recognizing when you need sunblock. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outdoors? Then you need sunscreen.) It’s not even as easy as knowing when to use eye protection (Working with dangerous chemicals? Doing some building? You need to wear eye protection).
When it comes to when to wear hearing protection, there seems to be a large grey area which can be risky. Unless we have specific information that some place or activity is dangerous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the problem entirely.
Assessing The Risks
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 probability of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. To prove the point, check out some examples:
- A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts approximately 3 hours.
- A landscaping business is run by person B. She spends a significant amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads.
- Person C works in an office.
You might think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) might be in more hearing danger. For most of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud concert. It seems reasonable to presume that Ann’s recreation was rather hazardous.
Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. There’s no ringing in her ears. So it must be safer for her hearing, right? Not really. Because Betty is mowing every day. In reality, the damage builds up a little bit at a time despite the fact that they don’t ring out. If experienced every day, even moderately loud noises can have a negative affect on your ears.
What’s happening with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even tougher to make sense of. Most individuals recognize that you should protect your ears while running machines such as a lawnmower. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute each day through the city. Additionally, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Is protection something she should consider?
When You Should be Concerned About Protecting Your Ears
Normally, you should turn down the volume if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And if your environment is that loud, you really should think about wearing earmuffs or earplugs.
The limit should be 85dB if you want to get clinical. Sounds above 85dB have the potential, over time, to lead to damage, so in those circumstances, you should consider using hearing protection.
Your ears don’t have their own decibel meter to notify you when you get to that 85dB level, so many hearing specialists suggest downloading special apps for your phone. You will be able to take the necessary steps to protect your ears because these apps will inform you when the noise is reaching a harmful volume.
A Few Examples
Your phone may not be with you anywhere you go even if you do get the app. So we may develop a good baseline with a few examples of when to safeguard our hearing. Here we go:
- Operating Power Tools: You understand you will need hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But how about the hobbyist building in his workshop? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists recommend using hearing protection if you’re operating power equipment.
- Household Chores: We already mentioned how something as basic as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can require hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great example of the sort of household job that might cause injury to your ears but that you most likely don’t think about all that often.
- Commuting and Driving: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re just hanging out downtown for work or getting on the subway. The noise of living in a 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.
- Listening to music with earbuds. This one requires caution, more than protection. Whether your music is going directly into your ears, how loud it is playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you should give consideration to. Noise-canceling headphones are a good choice to prevent needing to turn the volume way up.
- Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or perhaps your daily elliptical session. Each of these cases might require hearing protection. The high volume from instructors who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
These examples might give you a suitable baseline. When in doubt, however, you should defer to protection. Compared to leaving your ears exposed to future damage, in most cases, it’s better to protect your ears. Protect today, hear tomorrow.