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” warning signs? It’s not really a warning you ignore. A sign like that (especially if written in big, red letters) might even make you rethink your swim altogether. But people usually don’t pay attention to warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Recent research has found that millions of people ignore warning signs when it comes to their hearing (this research specifically looked at populations in the UK, but there’s little doubt the problem is more global than that). Part of the problem is awareness. Being afraid of sharks is rather instinctive. But fear of loud noise? And how do you know how loud is too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Hazardously Loud Sounds

Your hearing isn’t just in danger at a live concert or on the floor of a machine shop (not to minimize the hearing risks of these scenarios). Many every-day sounds are potentially hazardous. That’s because exposure time is as hazardous as the volume. Even low-level noises, including dense city traffic, can be harmful to your ears if you are exposed for more than two hours.

keep reading to find out when sound becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: This is the volume level you would expect of everyday conversation. You should be just fine around this level for an indefinite period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioner. After about two hours this level of sound becomes harmful.
  • 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. 50 minutes is enough to be harmful at this level of sound.
  • 100 dB: An approaching subway train or a mid-sized sports event are at this sound level (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be unsafe at this sound level.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up as high as it will go? On most smartphones, that’s right around this level. This amount of exposure will become dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock show or exceptionally large sporting events) can result in instant damage and pain in your ears.

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

Broadly speaking, you should look at anything 85 dB or above as putting your hearing in danger. But it can be difficult to distinguish how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. It’s not tangible in the way that a shark is tangible.

And hearing warnings commonly go ignored for this reason particularly when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of potential solutions:

  • Suitable training and signage: This refers to workspaces, in particular. Training and signage can help reinforce the significant hazards of hearing loss (and the advantages of hearing protection). In addition, just how loud your workplace is, can be made clear by signage. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is needed or recommended.
  • Get an app: There isn’t an app that will directly safeguard your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can work as sound level monitors. Damage to your hearing can occur without you recognizing it because it’s difficult to know just how loud 85 dB feels. The solution, then, is to have this app open and track the sound levels around you. Utilizing this strategy will make it more instinctive to recognize when you are going into the “danger zone”. (and you will also recognize immediately when things are getting too loud).

If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself

Apps and signage aren’t a foolproof solution. So make the effort to safeguard your ears if you have any doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can result in hearing loss. And these days, it’s never been easier to damage your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your music too loudly).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not turn up the volume past the mid-mark. You require noise blocking headphones if you are constantly turning up the volume to cover up background noise.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to identify when the volume becomes too loud. Increasing your own knowledge and recognition is the key if you want to do that. Safeguarding your ears, using ear protection, or limiting your exposure, is pretty simple. That starts with a little knowledge of when you need to do it.

That should be easier today, too. Especially now that you understand what to look for.

Think you might have hearing loss? Schedule an exam.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.