Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

Understanding you need to protect your hearing is one thing. Knowing when to safeguard your ears is another matter. It’s more difficult than, let’s say, recognizing when you need sunblock. (Are you going outdoors? Is there sunlight? You should be wearing sunscreen.) It’s not even as easy as determining when to use eye protection (Working with dangerous chemicals? Doing some construction? You need to wear eye protection).

When dealing with when to wear hearing protection, there seems to be a large grey area which can be dangerous. Unless we have particular knowledge that some place or activity is dangerous we tend to take the easy road which is to avoid the problem entirely.

Risk Assessments

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

  • Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is about the length of the concert.
  • Person B has a landscaping company. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
  • Person C is an office worker.

You may think the hearing hazard is greater for person A (let’s just call her Ann). For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be screeching from the loud concert. Presuming Ann’s activity was dangerous to her ears would be reasonable.

The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is exposed to is not as loud. There’s no ringing in her ears. So it must be safer for her hearing, right? Well, not really. Because Betty is mowing all day. In reality, the damage accumulates a little at a time even though they don’t ring out. Even moderate noises, if experienced with enough frequency, can damage your hearing.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Lawnmowers come with instructions that point out the hazards of persistent exposure to noise. But even though Chris works in a quiet office, she has a very noisy, hour-long commute every day through the city. Additionally, she sits at her desk and listens to music through earbuds. Does she need to think about protection?

When is it Time to be Concerned About Safeguarding Your Hearing?

The standard rule of thumb is that if you have to raise your voice in order to be heard, your surroundings are loud enough to do harm to your ears. And you should consider using earplugs or earmuffs if your surroundings are that loud.

So to put this a bit more clinically, you need to use 85dB as your cutoff. Sounds above 85dB have the ability to result in damage over time, so in those circumstances, you should consider using hearing protection.

Your ears don’t have their own decibel meter to alert you when you reach that 85dB level, so most hearing professionals suggest downloading specialized apps for your phone. These apps can inform you when the ambient sound is approaching a dangerous level, and you can take proper steps.

A Few Examples

Even if you do download that app and bring it with you, your phone may not be with you everywhere you go. So a few examples of when to protect your ears may help you formulate a good standard. Here we go:

  • Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or perhaps your daily elliptical session. Each of these examples may require 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.
  • Residential Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously stated, necessitates hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great illustration of the sort of household chore that might cause injury to your hearing but that you most likely don’t think about all that often.
  • Working With Power Tools: You understand you will need hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But what if you’re simply working in your garage all day? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists suggest using hearing protection if you’re utilizing power equipment.
  • Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, more than protection. Give consideration 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 smart choice to avoid needing to turn the volume way up.
  • Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re riding the subway after waiting for a while downtown. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your hearing, not to mention the extra injury caused by cranking up your tunes to drown out the city noise.

A good baseline may be researched by these examples. When in doubt, though, you should defer to protection. In most 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.