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

Have you ever noticed the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you go to the ocean? It’s easy to realize that you shouldn’t dismiss a caution like that. A sign like that (particularly if written in big, red letters) might even make you rethink your swim altogether. But people don’t tend to pay attention to cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Recent research has found that millions of individuals ignore warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global challenge, though these studies were specifically carried out in the United Kingdom). Part of the problem is knowledge. It’s fairly intuitive to be scared of sharks. But being frightened of loud noise? And the real question is, what’s too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Hazardously Loud Sounds

Your ears are not just in danger at a live concert or on the floor of a machine shop (not to downplay the hearing hazards of these scenarios). There are potential dangers with many every-day sounds. That’s because exposure time is as dangerous as the volume. Even low-level sounds, such as dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your hearing if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.

Generally speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this sound level. You should be just fine around this level for an indefinite period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioner. After about two hours this level of sound becomes damaging.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a practical example of this sound level. This level of exposure becomes harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 100 dB: An approaching subway train or a mid-sized sporting event are at this volume (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this volume.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever cranked your Spotify music up to ten? That’s usually around this sound level on most smartphones. 5 minutes will be enough to be harmful at this level.
  • 120 dB and over: Instant pain and damage can occur at or above this level (think about an arena sized sports event or rock show).

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

Generally speaking, you’re in the danger zone when you’re experiencing any sound 85 dB or higher. The problem is that it isn’t always obvious just how loud 85 dB is. A shark is a tangible thing but sound isn’t so tangible.

And that’s one of the reasons why hearing cautions often go neglected, when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is particularly true. Here are a couple of possible solutions:

  • Suitable signage and training: This especially pertains to the workplace. The significant hazards of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). In addition, just how loud your workplace is, can be clarified by signage. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is needed or suggested.
  • Download an app: There isn’t an app that will directly protect your ears. But there are several free apps that can work as sound level monitors. Damage to your hearing can occur without you recognizing it because it’s tough to know just how loud 85 dB feels. The solution, then, is to have this app open and monitor the noise levels around you. This will help you establish a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (Or, the app will simply alert you to when things get too noisy).

If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself

No app and no signage will ever be flawless. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to safeguard your hearing. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can result in hearing loss. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to injure your ears (it’s a simple matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).

You shouldn’t increase the volume past half way, specifically if you’re listening all day. You need noise blocking headphones if you are continually cranking up the volume to cover up background sound.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to acknowledge it. Increasing your own knowledge and awareness is the key if you want to do that. Safeguarding your ears, wearing earplugs, earmuffs, or decreasing your exposure, is pretty simple. That starts with a little knowledge of when you need to do it.

These days that should also be easier. Particularly now that you know what to look for.

Think you could have hearing loss? Schedule an exam.

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