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Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

It’s one thing to realize that you need to safeguard your hearing. Knowing when to protect your ears is another matter. It’s harder than, for example, recognizing when you need sunscreen. (Are you going to go outside? Is there sunlight? You need to be wearing sunblock.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is easier (Handling dangerous chemicals? Doing some building? You need eye protection).

It can feel as though there’s a significant grey area when dealing with when to wear hearing protection, and that can be risky. Unless we have specific knowledge that some activity or place is hazardous we tend to take the easy path which is to avoid the issue altogether.

Evaluating The Risks

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. To demonstrate the situation, here are some examples:

  • A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts roughly 3 hours.
  • 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 may believe the hearing danger is higher for person A (let’s just call her Ann). Ann leaves the performance with ringing ears, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, trying to hear herself talk. Assuming Ann’s activity was dangerous to her ears would be fair.

Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is subjected to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So her ears must be safer, right? Not really. Because Betty is mowing every day. So although her ears don’t ring out with pain, the harm accrues slowly. If experienced on a regular basis, even moderately loud noises can have a damaging affect on your ears.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. The majority of people understand that you need to safeguard your ears while running equipment such as a lawnmower. But although Chris has a fairly quiet job, her long morning commute on the train every day is quite loud. Additionally, while she works at her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to give some thought to protection?

When is it Time to Worry About Protecting Your Ears?

The standard rule of thumb is that if you need to raise your voice to be heard, your surroundings are noisy enough to do damage to your ears. And if your environment is that loud, you need to think about using earplugs or earmuffs.

So to put this a little more scientifically, you should use 85dB as your cutoff. Sounds above 85dB have the ability, over time, to result in damage, so in those circumstances, you need to consider using hearing protection.

Most hearing professionals suggest getting a special app to monitor noise levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be able to take the required steps to protect your ears because these apps will tell you when the sound is reaching a dangerous level.

A Few Examples

Your phone may not be with you wherever you go even if you do get the app. So we might develop a good standard with a couple of examples of when to safeguard our ears. Here we go:

  • Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t require protection but does require care. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re listening to it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a good choice to steer clear of needing to turn the volume way up.
  • Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or maybe your daily elliptical session. Each of these examples may require hearing protection. The high volume from trainers who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
  • Operating Power Tools: You know that working all day at your factory job is going to call for ear protection. But how about the enthusiast building in his workshop? Most hearing professionals will suggest you use hearing protection when operating power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist level.
  • Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or maybe you’re just hanging out downtown for work or boarding the subway. The noise of living in the city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the extra injury caused by cranking up your music to drown out the city noise.
  • Every day Chores: Even mowing a lawn, as previously stated, calls for hearing protection. Chores, like mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing impairment.

A strong baseline may be researched by these examples. If there is any doubt, however, wear protection. Compared to leaving your ears exposed to future injury, in most circumstances, it’s better to protect your hearing. Protect today, hear tomorrow.

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