Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

Knowing you should safeguard your ears is one thing. Knowing when to safeguard your ears is another matter. It’s not as straight forward as, for example, knowing when to wear sunblock. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outdoors? Then you need sunblock.) It’s not even as simple as determining when to use eye protection (Working with dangerous chemicals? Doing some building? You need 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 information that some place or activity is dangerous we tend to take the easy path which is to avoid the problem altogether.

Determining The Risks

In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as long term hearing damage or loss of hearing. Here are some examples to demonstrate the situation:

  • A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. 3 hours is about how long the concert lasts.
  • Person B runs a landscaping company. She spends a considerable amount of time mowing lawns, then goes home to a quiet house and reads.
  • Person C works in an office.

You might think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) might be in more hearing danger. For most of the next day, her ears will still be screeching from the loud show. It seems fair to assume that Ann’s activity was very hazardous.

Person B (let’s call her Betty), on the other hand, is subjected to less noise. There’s no ringing in her ears. So her hearing must be less hazardous, right? Not really. Because Betty is mowing every day. So even though her ears never ring out with pain, the damage builds up gradually. Even moderate noises, if experienced regularly, can harm your hearing.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less evident. The majority of individuals realize that you should safeguard your ears while running equipment like a lawnmower. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute every day through the city. Additionally, although she works at her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Is protection something she should think about?

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

Normally, you need to turn the volume down if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And if your environment is that noisy, you should consider wearing earplugs or earmuffs.

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

Your ears don’t have their own decibel meter to notify you when you get to that 85dB level, so countless hearing professionals suggest downloading specialized apps for your phone. These apps can let you know when the surrounding noise is getting close to a harmful level, and you can take proper steps.

A Few Examples

Your phone might not be with you anywhere you go even if you do get the app. So we may establish a good baseline with a few examples of when to protect our ears. Here we go:

  • Exercise: Your morning spin class is a perfect example. Or maybe your daily elliptical session. Each of these cases might call for ear protection. Those instructors who make use of microphones and sound systems (and loud music) to motivate you might be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your ears.
  • Working With Power Tools: You know you will require hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But how about the enthusiast building in his garage? Most hearing specialists will recommend you use hearing protection when operating power tools, even if it’s just on a hobbyist basis.
  • Domestic Chores: We already talked about how something as basic as mowing the lawn, when done frequently, can call for hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can cause hearing damage.
  • Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require care. Whether your music is going directly into your ears, how loud it’s playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you need to pay attention to. Noise-canceling headphones are a great choice to prevent having to turn the volume way up.
  • Driving & Commuting: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re riding a subway after waiting for a while downtown. The constant noise of living in the city, when experienced for 6-8 hours a day, can cause injury to your hearing over the long term, specifically if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the commotion.

These illustrations may give you a suitable baseline. If there is any doubt, however, use protection. Rather than leaving your ears exposed to future harm, in most instances, it’s better to protect your ears. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.

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