It’s one thing to know that you need to protect your hearing. Knowing when to protect your ears is a different story. It’s not as simple as, for example, determining when to wear sunblock. (Are you going outdoors? Is there sunlight? You should be using sunscreen.) It isn’t even as simple as knowing when to use eye protection (Handling hazardous chemicals? Doing some building? You need to wear eye protection).
It can feel as though there’s a huge grey area when addressing when to wear ear protection, and that can be dangerous. Unless we have particular information that some activity or place is dangerous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the problem altogether.
A Tale of Risk Evaluation
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 possibility of lasting sensorineural hearing loss. To prove the point, check out some examples:
- Person A attends a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is around the length of the concert.
- A landscaping company is run by person B. She spends a significant amount of time mowing lawns, then goes home to a quiet house and reads.
- Person C is an office worker.
You may think the hearing hazard is higher for person A (let’s just call her Ann). Ann leaves the concert with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, trying to hear herself talk. Presuming Ann’s activity was dangerous to her hearing would be reasonable.
Person B (let’s just call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. There’s no ringing in her ears. So her hearing must be safer, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing all day. The truth is, the damage accumulates a little bit at a time even though they don’t ring out. Even moderate noise, if experienced regularly, can damage your ears.
What’s occurring with person C (let’s call her Chris) is even more difficult to sort out. Lawnmowers have instructions that emphasize the dangers of ongoing exposure to noise. But even though Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute each day through the city. Additionally, even though she works at her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should consider?
When is it Time to Begin to Consider About Protecting Your Hearing?
Generally speaking, you should turn down the volume if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And you should consider wearing earmuffs or earplugs if your surroundings are that noisy.
The cutoff needs to be 85dB if you want to get clinical. Sounds above 85dB have the potential, over time, to cause injury, so you should consider using ear protection in those situations.
Many hearing professionals suggest making use of a specialized app to keep track of noise levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the correct steps to protect your ears because these apps will inform you when the noise is reaching a dangerous volume.
A Few Examples
Even if you do download that app and bring it with you, your phone might not be with you everywhere you go. So we might develop a good baseline with a couple of examples of when to protect our hearing. Here we go:
- Every day Chores: Even mowing a lawn, as previously explained, calls for hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a good example of the type of household task that could cause damage to your hearing but that you probably don’t think about all that often.
- Using Power Tools: You understand you will need hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. 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 utilizing power equipment.
- 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. Think about using headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t have to turn up the volume to hazardous levels.
- Driving & Commuting: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or maybe you’re just hanging around downtown for work or getting on the subway. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the added injury caused by turning up your tunes to drown out the city noise.
- Exercise: Your morning cycling class is a great example. Or maybe your daily elliptical session. Each of these cases might require hearing protection. The high volume from trainers who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it may be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
A strong baseline might be established by these examples. If there is any doubt, however, use protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them exposed to possible damage down the road. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.