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Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

It’s one thing to recognize that you should protect your hearing. It’s a different story to know when to protect your ears. It’s more challenging than, for instance, knowing when you need sunscreen. (Are you going outdoors? Is there sunlight? You should be wearing sunscreen.) It’s not even as easy as determining when to wear eye protection (Doing some hammering? Working with a saw or hazardous chemicals? Wear eye protection).

It can feel like there’s a large grey area when dealing with when to use ear protection, and that can be dangerous. Unless we have particular knowledge that some place or activity is hazardous we tend to take the easy path which is to avoid the issue altogether.

A Tale of Risk Assessment

In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as permanent hearing damage or loss of hearing. To prove the point, check out some examples:

  • A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. 3 hours is about the length of the concert.
  • 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 presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) might be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the concert with ringing ears, and she’ll spend most of the next day, trying to hear herself talk. It seems fair to assume that Ann’s recreation was quite hazardous.

The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is exposed to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So her hearing must be safer, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing every day. So despite the fact that her ears never ring out with pain, the harm accrues slowly. Even moderate noise, if experienced regularly, can harm your hearing.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less evident. Lawnmowers come with instructions that indicate the hazards of continued exposure to noise. But even though Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute each day on the train. Additionally, even though 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 be Concerned About Safeguarding Your Ears?

The standard guideline is that if you need to raise your voice to be heard, your environment is loud enough to do damage to your hearing. And if your environment is that noisy, you really should think about using earmuffs or earplugs.

So to put this a bit more clinically, you need to use 85dB as your limit. Noises above 85dB have the capacity to result in injury over time, so in those situation, you should think about using hearing protection.

Many hearing specialists suggest making use of a special app to keep track of decibel levels so you will be aware when the 85dB has been reached. You will be capable of taking the appropriate steps to safeguard your ears because these apps will inform you when the noise is approaching a dangerous level.

A Few Examples

Your phone may not be with you anywhere you go even if you do download the app. So we might formulate a good standard with a few examples of when to safeguard our ears. Here we go:

  • Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or maybe your daily elliptical session. All of these cases may call for hearing protection. The high volume from instructors who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it may be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
  • Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t require protection but does require caution. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re listening to it, and whether it’s going directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a good choice to steer clear of having to turn the volume way up.
  • Operating Power Tools: You know that working every day at your factory job is going to call for ear protection. But what if you’re just puttering around your garage all day? Most hearing professionals will recommend you use hearing protection when operating power tools, even if it’s just on a hobbyist basis.
  • Commuting and Driving: Driving all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re taking a subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the extra injury caused by cranking up your tunes to drown out the city noise.
  • Domestic Chores: We already discussed how something as basic as mowing the lawn, when done frequently, can require hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a good illustration of the sort of household chore that might cause injury to your hearing but that you probably won’t think about all that often.

These illustrations might give you a suitable baseline. When in doubt, however, you should defer to protection. In the majority of cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them subject to possible harm down the road. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.