Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not hard to understand that you should never ignore a caution like that. 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 cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.
Current studies have found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs regarding their hearing (these studies specifically considered populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s little doubt the concern is more global than that). Knowledge is a huge part of the issue. It’s fairly intuitive to be afraid of sharks. But most people 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 (although both of those situations are, without a doubt, dangerous to your hearing). Many common sounds are potentially hazardous. That’s because the duration of sound is as dangerous as the volume. Even lower-level noises, including dense city traffic, can be harmful to your hearing if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.
Generally speaking, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this volume level. You should be perfectly fine around this volume for an indefinite length of time.
- 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and lawn equipment are at this level of sound. This volume will normally become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. This amount of exposure gets harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: An oncoming subway train or a mid-sized sporting event are at this volume (of course, this depends on the city). This volume can become dangerous after 15 minutes of exposure.
- 110 dB: Have you ever cranked your Spotify music up to ten? That’s usually around this volume on most smartphones. This level of exposure is dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
- 120 dB and over: Instant pain and damage can occur at or above this level (think about an arena sized sporting event or rock show).
How Loud is 85 Decibels?
Generally speaking, you’re hearing is in danger when you’re experiencing any sound 85 dB or above. But it can be hard to distinguish how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. A shark is a tangible thing but sound isn’t so tangible.
And hearing cautions often go ignored because of this when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is especially true. Here are a couple of potential solutions:
- Get an app: Your hearing can’t be immediately protected with an app. But there are a few sound level metering apps. It’s hard to determine what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be damaged without you even knowing it. Making use of this app to monitor sound levels, then, is the solution. Utilizing this method will make it more instinctive to recognize when you are going into the “danger zone”. (Or, the app will simply alert you to when things get too noisy).
- Sufficient signage and training: This especially pertains to workspaces. The real dangers of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). Also, just how noisy your workspace is, can be made clear by signage. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is suggested or required with proper training can be really helpful.
When in Doubt: Protect
No signage or app will ever be 100%. So take the time to safeguard your ears if you are in doubt. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing issues. And these days, it’s never been easier to damage your ears (all you need to do is turn your earpods up a little too high).
If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not raise the volume past the mid-mark. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background sound you need different headphones that have noise cancellation.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to recognize it. Raising your own understanding and awareness is the key if you want to do that. Protecting your ears, using ear protection, or decreasing your exposure, is not that difficult. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.
These days that should also be easier. Especially now that you understand what to look for.
Schedule a hearing exam today if you think you might have hearing loss.