Have you ever gone to the beach and noticed one of those “Beware of Shark” warnings? It’s not exactly a warning you ignore. You may even think twice about swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). But people don’t tend to pay attention to warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Recent studies have found that millions of people disregard warning signs when it comes to their hearing (these studies specifically looked at populations in the UK, but there’s no doubt the concern is more global than that). Part of the issue is knowledge. Fear of sharks is rather instinctive. But most individuals don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And the real question is, what volume level is too loud?
Loud And Dangerous Sound is Everywhere Around us
It isn’t only the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that are dangerous to your ears (not to downplay the hearing hazards of these scenarios). There are potential risks with many every-day sounds. That’s because it’s not exclusively the volume of a sound that presents a danger; it’s also how long you’re exposed. Your hearing can be injured with even low level noises like dense city traffic if you’re exposed to it for more than a couple of hours at a time.
Generally speaking, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: This is the volume level you would find in normal conversation. At this volume, there won’t be any limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
- 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioner. This volume will normally become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a practical example of this sound level. This level of exposure gets harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you might encounter at a mid-size sporting event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this sound level.
- 110 dB: Have you ever cranked your Spotify music up to ten? That’s usually around this sound level on most smartphones. This level of exposure will become dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and injury can occur at or above this level (think about an arena sized sporting event or rock concert).
What Does 85 dB Sound Like?
Generally, you should look at anything 85 dB or above as putting your ears at risk. But it can be hard to distinguish how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is 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:
- Adequate training and signage: This particularly pertains to workspaces. The real risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the benefits of hearing protection). Signage could also let you know just how loud your workplace is. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is required or suggested.
- Get an app: There isn’t an app that will directly safeguard your ears. But there are a few sound level metering apps. It’s hard to judge what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be injured without you even knowing it. Utilizing this app to keep track of sound levels, then, is the answer. This can help you establish a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (Or, the app will simply let you know when things get too noisy).
When in Doubt: Protect
Apps and signage aren’t a foolproof solution. So make the effort to protect your ears if you have any doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can lead to hearing loss. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to damage your ears (all you need to do is turn your earpods up a little too loud).
You shouldn’t increase the volume past half way, particularly if you’re listening all day. 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 significant than ever to identify when loud becomes too loud. Raising your own understanding and recognition is the key if you want to do that. It isn’t difficult to reduce your exposure or at least wear ear 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 test right away if you think you might have hearing loss.