Volume knob set to a safe level that won't harm your hearing.

Have you ever noticed the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s easy to realize that you shouldn’t dismiss a caution like that. A warning like that (specifically if written in huge, red letters) may even make you rethink your swim altogether. But people usually don’t heed warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Current research has found that millions of people ignore warning signs regarding their hearing (these studies specifically considered populations in the UK, but there’s little doubt the concern is more global than that). Awareness is a big part of the problem. It’s fairly instinctive to be scared of sharks. But being scared of loud noise? And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?

Loud And Hazardous Sound is Everywhere Around us

Your ears are not just in danger at a live concert or construction site (although both of those situations are, without a doubt, dangerous to your hearing). There are potential dangers with many common sounds. That’s because the duration of sound is as harmful as the volume. Your hearing can be injured with even low level noises like dense city traffic if you’re exposed to it for more than two hours at a time.

Broadly speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: This is the sound level you would expect of everyday conversation. You should be perfectly fine at this level for an indefinite period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: This is the sound level of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioning unit. After about two hours this level of sound becomes damaging.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good example of this sound level. This level of exposure gets harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 100 dB: An approaching subway train or a mid-sized sporting event are at this volume (of course, this depends on the city). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be harmful at this sound level.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up to max? On most smartphones, that’s about this volume. 5 minutes will be enough to be dangerous at this level.
  • 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and damage can happen at or above this volume (think about an arena sized sporting event or rock concert).

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

Generally, you’re hearing is in peril when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or above. The issue is that it isn’t always clear just how loud 85 dB is. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.

And that’s one of the reasons why hearing cautions often go ignored, especially when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of potential solutions:

  • Download an app: Your ears can’t be directly protected with an app. But there are several free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to assess what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be damaged without you even realizing it. The answer, then, is to have this app working and monitor the sound levels near you. This can help you establish a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (and you will also discern right away when things are getting too noisy).
  • Adequate training and signage: This goes for workspaces, in particular. Signage and training can help reinforce the significant risks of hearing loss (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). Signage could also inform you just how loud your workspace is. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is needed or recommended.

When in Doubt: Protect

Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof answer. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to protect your hearing. Noise damage, over a long enough period of time, can lead to hearing loss. And these days, it’s never been easier to damage your ears (it’s a simple matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the half way. You require noise blocking headphones if you are constantly turning up the volume to block out background noise.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to recognize it. Raising your own knowledge and awareness is the key if you want to do that. Safeguarding your ears, wearing ear protection, or reducing your exposure, is not that difficult. But you have to recognize when to do it.

That should be easier these days, too. Especially now that you know what to be aware of.

Schedule a hearing examination right away if you think you may have hearing loss.

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