Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

It’s one thing to know that you should safeguard your ears. Knowing when to safeguard your ears is another matter. It’s more challenging than, let’s say, knowing when you need sunblock. (Are you going to go outside? Is the sun out? You should be using sunblock.) It isn’t even as simple as determining when to wear eye protection (Handling hazardous chemicals? Doing some construction? You need to wear eye protection).

It can feel as though there’s a large grey area when addressing when to wear ear protection, and that can be dangerous. Unless we have particular information that some place or activity is dangerous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the issue altogether.

Risk Assessments

In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as long term hearing problems or loss of hearing. Here are some examples to demonstrate the situation:

  • Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is approximately the length of the concert.
  • A landscaping company is run by person B. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
  • Person C works in an office.

You might think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) might be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the concert with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend most of the next day, struggling to hear herself talk. Assuming Ann’s activity was dangerous to her hearing would be reasonable.

Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So it must be safer for her hearing, right? Well, not really. Because Betty is mowing every day. The truth is, the damage accumulates a little bit at a time despite the fact that they don’t ring out. Even moderate sounds, if experienced regularly, can harm your ears.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less obvious. The majority of individuals realize that you need to safeguard your ears while running equipment like a lawnmower. But although Chris has a fairly quiet job, her long morning commute on the train each day is fairly loud. Additionally, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to consider protection?

When is it Time to Start to Think About Safeguarding Your Ears?

Generally, you should turn the volume down if you have to shout to be heard. And if your environment is that loud, you really should think about using earplugs or earmuffs.

The limit needs to be 85dB if you want to get clinical. Sounds above 85dB have the potential, over time, to lead to damage, so in those scenarios, you need to think about wearing ear protection.

Your ears don’t have their own sound level meter to notify you when you reach that 85dB level, so most hearing specialists recommend obtaining specialized apps for your phone. These apps can inform you when the ambient noise is nearing a harmful level, and you can take suitable steps.

A Few Examples

Even if you do get that app and take it with you, your phone might not be with you wherever you go. So we may develop a good baseline with a few examples of when to protect our ears. Here we go:

  • Exercise: Your morning spin class is a good example. Or maybe your nighttime yoga session? You might think about wearing hearing protection to each. Those trainers who use microphones and sound systems (and loud music) to motivate you may be good for your heart rate, but all that loudness is bad for your ears.
  • Residential Chores: We already mentioned how something as straightforward as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can call for hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing impairment.
  • Operating Power Tools: You recognize that working every day at your factory job is going to require hearing protection. But what if you’re just working in your garage all day? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists suggest using hearing protection if you’re working with power equipment.
  • Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t require protection but does require care. Give consideration to how loud the music is, how long you’re playing it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Consider getting headphones that cancel out outside sound so you don’t have to crank up the volume to hazardous levels.
  • Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re taking the subway after waiting for a while downtown. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your hearing, not to mention the added damage caused by cranking up your music to drown out the city noise.

A good baseline might be researched by these examples. If there is any doubt, though, wear protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them subject to possible damage down the road. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.

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