It’s one thing to know that you should safeguard your hearing. It’s another matter to know when to protect your ears. It’s not as simple as, for example, knowing when to use sunblock. (Is it sunny and will you be outside? Then you need sunblock.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is simpler (Using a hammer? Working with a saw or hazardous chemicals? Use eye protection).
It can feel like there’s a large grey area when dealing with when to use ear protection, and that can be risky. Unless we have particular knowledge that some activity or place is dangerous we tend to take the easy road 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 probability of permanent sensorineural hearing loss. Let’s take some examples to prove the point:
- Person A attends a very loud rock concert. The concert lasts approximately 3 hours.
- A landscaping business is run by person B. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
- Person C works in an office.
You might presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) may be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the concert with ringing ears, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, trying to hear herself talk. It seems reasonable to assume that Ann’s activity was rather risky.
Person B (let’s just call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So it must be less hazardous for her ears, right? Well, not really. Because Betty is mowing all day. The truth is, the damage accumulates a little at a time despite the fact that they don’t ring out. Even moderate noise, if experienced regularly, can damage your ears.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Most individuals realize that you should safeguard your ears while using machines such as a lawnmower. But even though Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute through the city every day is rather loud. Additionally, while she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to think about protection?
When is it Time to be Concerned About Safeguarding Your Ears?
In general, you need to turn the volume down if you have to shout to be heard. And you really should consider using earmuffs or earplugs if your surroundings are that noisy.
If you want to think about this a bit more scientifically, you need to use 85dB as your limit. Sounds above 85dB have the potential to result in injury over time, so in those scenarios, you should think about using hearing protection.
Many hearing professionals advise getting a special app to keep track of noise levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can let you know when the surrounding sound is getting close to a dangerous level, and you can take appropriate steps.
A Few Examples
Even if you do get that app and take it with you, your phone might not be with you everywhere you go. So a few examples of when to safeguard your ears may help you develop a good standard. Here we go:
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require caution. Give consideration to how loud the music is, how long you’re listening to it, and whether it’s going directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a smart choice to prevent needing to turn the volume way up.
- Working With Power Tools: You recognize that working every day at your factory job is going to necessitate ear protection. But how about the enthusiast building in his workshop? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists recommend using hearing protection if you’re working with power equipment.
- Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or maybe you’re riding a subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The constant noise of city living, when experienced for 6-8 hours a day, can cause injury to your hearing over the long term, particularly if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the commotion.
- Every day Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously explained, requires hearing protection. Chores, such as mowing, are most likely something you don’t even think about, but they can cause hearing damage.
- Exercise: Your morning spin class is a good example. Or perhaps your daily elliptical session. You may consider wearing hearing protection to each. The high volume from instructors who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your hearing.
These illustrations may give you a suitable baseline. When in doubt, though, you should choose protection. In the majority of cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them subject to possible injury in the future. Protect today, hear tomorrow.