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

Have you ever gone to the beach and noticed one of those “Beware of Shark” warnings? It’s not exactly a warning you ignore. A sign like that (especially if written in big, red letters) might even make you reconsider your swim altogether. For some reason, though, it’s more challenging for people to heed warnings about their hearing in the same way.

Recent studies have found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global concern, though this research was specifically conducted in the UK). Knowledge is a huge part of the problem. It’s pretty instinctive to be scared of sharks. But being afraid of loud noise? And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Noises

Your hearing isn’t just in danger at a rock concert or on the floor of a machine shop (not to minimize the hearing risks of these scenarios). Many every-day sounds can be harmful. That’s because exposure time is as dangerous as the volume. Your hearing can be injured with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you’re exposed to it for more than two hours at a time.

Read on to find out when sound gets too loud:

  • 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this sound level. You should be perfectly fine at this level for an indefinite period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioning unit. This level of sound will usually become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
  • 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. 50 minutes is enough to be harmful at this level of sound.
  • 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you may encounter at a mid-size sports event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up to max? On most smartphones, that’s about this level. 5 minutes will be enough to be harmful at this level.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or exceptionally large sporting events) can produce immediate injury and pain in your ears.

How Loud is 85 dB?

Generally, you’re in the danger zone when you’re experiencing any sound 85 dB or higher. But it can be hard to distinguish how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. A shark is a tangible thing but sound isn’t so tangible.

And that’s one reason why hearing warnings often go neglected, when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is specifically true. There are a couple of potential solutions to this:

  • Get an app: There isn’t an app that will immediately protect your ears. But there are several free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to judge what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be damaged without you even knowing it. The answer, then, is to have this app open and keep track of the sound levels near you. This will help you establish a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (and you will also discern right away when things are getting too noisy).
  • Suitable signage and training: This refers to the workplace, in particular. Signage and training can help reinforce the real risks of hearing loss (and the advantages of hearing protection). Signage could also let you know just how loud your workplace is. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is suggested or necessary with proper training can be really useful.

When in Doubt: Protect

No signage or app will ever be 100%. So when in doubt, take the time to protect your ears. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can lead to hearing loss. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to harm your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).

You shouldn’t increase the volume past mid way, particularly if you’re listening all day. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background sound you need different headphones that have noise cancellation.

That’s why it’s more essential than ever to acknowledge when the volume becomes too loud. Increasing your own knowledge and awareness is the answer if you want to do that. It isn’t difficult to minimize your exposure or at least use hearing protection. But you have to recognize when to do it.

Nowadays that should also be easier. That’s even more relevant now that you have some insight.

Think you might have hearing loss? Make an appointment.

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