Have you ever gone to the beach and seen one of those “Beware of Shark” signs? It’s not hard to realize that you should never disregard a caution like that. You might even reconsider swimming at all with a sign like that (if the sign is written in big red letters that’s especially true). Inexplicably, though, it’s more challenging for people to listen to warnings concerning their hearing in the same way.
Current research has found that millions of people ignore warning signs regarding their hearing (these studies exclusively considered populations in the UK, but there’s little doubt the concern is more global than that). Part of the problem is awareness. Fear of sharks is rather instinctive. But fear of loud noise? And the real question is, what volume level is too loud?
We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Sounds
Your hearing isn’t just in danger at a live concert or on the floor of a machine shop (although both of those situations are, indeed, hazardous to your hearing). There are potential hazards with many every-day sounds. That’s because the duration of sound is as harmful as the volume. Even lower-level sounds, such as dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your ears when experienced for more than a couple of hours.
Read on to find out when sound becomes too loud:
- 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this sound level. You should be perfectly fine around this level for an indefinite length of time.
- 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and a lawnmower are at this volume. This volume will normally become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
- 90 – 95 dB: Think of the noisiness of a motorcycle. This level of exposure becomes harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
- 100 dB: This is the amount of sound you might encounter at a mid-size sports event or an approaching subway train (of course, this depends on the city). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
- 110 dB: Do you ever turn the volume on your earpods up as high as it will go? That’s normally around this volume on most smartphones. 5 minutes will be enough to be dangerous at this volume.
- 120 dB and over: Instant pain and injury can occur at or above this level (consider an arena sized sporting event or rock show).
How Loud is 85 dB?
In general, you’re in the danger zone when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or higher. The problem is that it’s not always apparent just how loud 85 dB is. A shark is a tangible thing but sound isn’t so tangible.
And hearing cautions commonly get neglected because of this when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is especially true. Here are a couple of possible solutions:
- Adequate training and signage: This goes for workspaces, in particular. The real risks of hearing loss can be reinforced by training and sufficient signage (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). In addition, just how noisy your workspace is, can be made clear by signage. Helping employees know when hearing protection is suggested or necessary with appropriate training can be really useful.
- Download an app: There isn’t an app that’s going to immediately protect your ears. But there are several sound level metering apps. 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 keep track of noise levels, then, is the answer. This can help you establish a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (Or, the app will simply let you know when things get too loud).
If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself
Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof answer. So when in doubt, take the time to protect your hearing. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing issues. And it’s easier than ever to damage your ears (all you have to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too loud).
You shouldn’t raise the volume past mid way, particularly if you’re listening all day. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background sound you need different headphones that have noise cancellation.
So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to acknowledge it. And in order to do this, you need to raise your own recognition and knowledge level. Safeguarding your ears, wearing ear protection, or reducing your exposure, is pretty simple. That starts with a little knowledge of when you need to do it.
Nowadays that should also be easier. That’s even more true now that you have some awareness.
Think you might have hearing loss? Schedule a test.