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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 hard to realize that you shouldn’t ignore a warning like that. You may even rethink swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). But people usually don’t heed cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Current research has found that millions of people disregard warning signs when it comes to their hearing (this research specifically looked at populations in the UK, but there’s little doubt the problem is more global than that). Awareness is a huge part of the issue. It’s fairly instinctive to be afraid of sharks. But being frightened of loud noise? And the real question is, what’s too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Hazardously Loud Sounds

It’s not only the machine shop floor or rock concert that present dangers to your ears (not to downplay the hearing risks of these situations). There are potential risks with many common sounds. That’s because exposure time is as hazardous as the volume. Your hearing can be harmed with even low level noises like dense city traffic if you experience it for more than two hours at a time.

Generally, 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 volume for an indefinite length of time.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and a lawnmower are at this level of sound. After about two hours this level of sound becomes damaging.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good illustration of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be unsafe at this level of sound.
  • 100 dB: This is the amount of sound you might experience from a mid-size sporting event or an oncoming subway train (of course, this depends on the city). This volume can get hazardous after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up as high as it will go? On most smartphones, that’s right around this level. 5 minutes will be enough to be unsafe at this level.
  • 120 dB and over: Any sound over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or very large sports events) can result in instant injury and pain in your ears.

How Loud is 85 Decibels?

In general, you should look at anything 85 dB or higher as putting your ears in the danger zone. But it can be hard to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.

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

  • Download an app: There isn’t an app that will directly safeguard your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s hard to judge what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be damaged without you even realizing it. Using this app to keep track of sound levels, then, is the solution. Utilizing this method will make it more instinctive to recognize when you are moving into the “danger zone”. (and you will also recognize immediately when things are getting too noisy).
  • Adequate signage and training: This especially pertains to workspaces. The significant risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the advantages of hearing protection). Signage could also inform you just how noisy your workplace is. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is recommended or necessary with proper training can be very helpful.

If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself

Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof solution. So take the time to protect your ears if you are in doubt. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing issues. And these days, it’s never been easier to harm your ears (all you need to do is turn your earpods up a little too high).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the mid-mark. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background noise you need different headphones that can block out noise.

That’s why it’s more essential than ever to acknowledge when loud becomes too loud. Raising your own understanding and awareness is the answer if you want to do that. It’s not difficult to minimize your exposure or at least use hearing protection. That starts with a little recognition of when you need to do it.

That should be easier today, too. Particularly now that you know what to be aware of.

Schedule a hearing exam right away if you think you might have hearing loss.

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