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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 not exactly a sign you ignore. A sign like that (particularly if written in huge, red letters) might even make you rethink your swim altogether. But people usually don’t heed warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Recent research has found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global problem, though this research was exclusively conducted in the United Kingdom). Awareness is a big part of the issue. Fear of sharks is pretty intuitive. But being frightened of loud noise? And the real question is, what volume level is too loud?

Loud And Hazardous Sound is All Around us

It’s not only the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that are dangerous to your ears (not to downplay the hearing hazards of these situations). Many every-day sounds can be hazardous. That’s because it’s not only the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also the duration. Even low-level noises, such as dense city traffic, can be harmful to your hearing when experienced for more than two hours.

Broadly speaking, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this volume level. You should be perfectly fine around this volume for an indefinite time period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and a lawnmower are at this level of sound. After about two hours this level of sound becomes dangerous.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a practical illustration of this sound level. This level of exposure gets dangerous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 100 dB: This is the level of sound you may encounter at a mid-size sports event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be harmful at this sound level.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever turned your Spotify music up to ten? On most smartphones, that’s about this volume. 5 minutes will be enough to be dangerous at this volume.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock show or exceptionally large sporting events) can produce instant damage and pain in your ears.

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

Generally, you should regard anything 85 dB or above as putting your ears at risk. But it can be hard to recognize how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. It’s not tangible in the way that a shark is tangible.

And hearing cautions commonly get neglected for this reason specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of possible solutions:

  • Get an app: There isn’t an app that will directly safeguard your ears. But there are a few sound level metering apps. It’s hard to judge what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be damaged without you even realizing it. Making use of this app to monitor sound levels, then, is the answer. This can help you develop a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (and you will also discern right away when things are getting too loud).
  • Suitable signage and training: This goes for the workplace, in particular. Training and signage can help reinforce the significant dangers of hearing loss (and the benefits of hearing protection). Additionally, just how loud your workplace is, can be made clear by signage. Helping employees know when hearing protection is suggested or required with appropriate training can be very useful.

If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself

Apps and signage aren’t a foolproof answer. So take the time to safeguard your ears if you are in doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can lead to 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).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not increase the volume past the mid-mark. You need noise cancellation headphones if you are always cranking up the volume to cover up background noise.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to recognize it. Increasing your own knowledge and recognition is the answer if you want to do that. Safeguarding your ears, using earplugs, earmuffs, or decreasing your exposure, is pretty simple. But you have to know when to do it.

These days that should also be easier. Especially now that you understand what to look for.

Schedule a hearing exam right away if you think you may be suffering from hearing loss.

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