Volume knob set to a safe level that won't harm your hearing.

Have you ever gone to the beach and seen one of those “Beware of Shark” warnings? It’s not really a sign you disregard. A sign like that (particularly if written in large, red letters) might even make you reconsider your swim altogether. But people don’t tend to pay attention to cautions about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Current research has found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs when it comes to their hearing (these studies exclusively looked at populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s no doubt the problem is more global than that). Awareness is a big part of the issue. It’s pretty intuitive to be scared of sharks. But the majority of people don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And the real question is, what volume level is too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Hazardously Loud Sounds

It isn’t only the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your ears (although both of those situations are, indeed, hazardous to your hearing). There are potential dangers with many every-day sounds. That’s because it isn’t just the volume of a sound that presents a danger; it’s also how long you’re exposed. Even lower-level noises, including dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your hearing when experienced for more than two hours.

Generally, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this sound 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. After around two hours this level of sound becomes harmful.
  • 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. 50 minutes is enough to be dangerous at this level of sound.
  • 100 dB: This is the level of sound you might experience from a mid-size sporting event or an approaching subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be dangerous at this volume.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up as high as it will go? On most smartphones, that’s right around this volume. This amount 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 (consider an arena sized sporting event or rock show).

How Loud is 85 dB?

Generally, you should look at anything 85 dB or louder as putting your hearing in the danger zone. The issue is that it isn’t always apparent just how loud 85 dB is. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.

And hearing warnings commonly get neglected because of this specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of possible solutions:

  • Get an app: Your ears can’t be directly protected with an app. But there are several free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to determine what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be damaged without you even realizing it. Utilizing this app to monitor sound levels, then, is the solution. Utilizing this approach will make it more instinctual to recognize when you are going into the “danger zone”. (Or, the app will merely tell you when things get too loud).
  • Sufficient training and signage: This is true of workspaces, in particular. The real risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the benefits of hearing protection). In addition, just how loud your workplace is, can be clarified by signage. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is recommended or necessary with appropriate training can be very helpful.

When in Doubt: Protect

Apps and signage aren’t a foolproof answer. So take the time to safeguard your ears if you are in doubt. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing issues. And it’s easier than it ever has been to injure your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not turn up the volume past the half way. If you keep turning it up to hear your music over background noise you should find different headphones that can block out noise.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to accept it. And in order to do this, you need to increase your own recognition and knowledge level. Protecting your ears, wearing ear protection, or decreasing your exposure, is easy enough. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.

That should be easier today, too. That’s even more accurate now that you have some insight.

Schedule a hearing test today if you think you may have hearing loss.

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