Have you ever gone to the beach and seen one of those “Beware of Shark” warnings? It’s not exactly a warning you ignore. You might even reconsider swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s especially true). But people don’t tend to heed cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Recent studies have found that millions of people ignore warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s little doubt that this is a global concern, though these studies were exclusively done in the UK). Knowledge is a huge part of the issue. It’s rather intuitive to be fearful of sharks. But most individuals don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?
Loud And Hazardous Sound is Everywhere Around us
It isn’t just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that are dangerous to your ears (not to minimize the hearing risks of these situations). There are potential hazards with many common sounds. That’s because exposure time is as dangerous as the volume. Even low-level noises, like dense city traffic, can be damaging to your hearing if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.
Generally speaking, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this sound level. At this volume, there won’t be a limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and lawn equipment are at this level of sound. After around two hours this level of sound becomes dangerous.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. 50 minutes is enough to be harmful at this volume.
- 100 dB: This is the level of sound you might experience from a mid-size sporting event or an approaching subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up as high as it will go? That’s normally around this sound level on most smartphones. 5 minutes will be enough to be unsafe at this level.
- 120 dB and over: Any sound over 120 dB (think loud rock show or exceptionally large sports events) can produce instant damage and pain in your ears.
How Loud is 85 Decibels?
Generally speaking, you’re in the danger zone when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or above. The issue is that it’s not always obvious just how loud 85 dB is. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.
And hearing cautions often get neglected because of this particularly when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. There are a couple of possible solutions to this:
- Suitable signage and training: This especially pertains to workspaces. Training and signage can help reinforce the real hazards of hearing loss (and the advantages of hearing protection). Signage could also let you know just how noisy your workplace is. Helping employees know when hearing protection is suggested or required with appropriate training can be very useful.
- Download an app: Your hearing can’t be directly protected with an app. But there are several sound level metering apps. Damage to your hearing can happen without you realizing it because it’s hard to know just how loud 85 dB feels. The solution, then, is to have this app open and keep track of the noise levels around you. Utilizing this method will make it more instinctual to recognize when you are moving into the “danger zone”. (Or, the app will simply let you know when things get too loud).
When in Doubt: Protect
No signage or app will ever be flawless. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to protect your hearing. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing problems. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to damage your ears (it’s a simple matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).
You shouldn’t raise the volume past mid way, particularly if you’re listening all day. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background sound you should find different headphones that have noise cancellation.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to acknowledge when loud becomes too loud. And to do this, you need to increase your own recognition and knowledge level. Protecting your ears, wearing ear protection, or decreasing your exposure, is not that difficult. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
These days that should also be easier. That’s even more accurate now that you have some insight.
Schedule a hearing exam today if you think you may be suffering from hearing loss.