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

Have you ever noticed the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you go to the ocean? It’s not hard to realize that you should never dismiss a warning like that. You might even rethink swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). But people usually don’t heed warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Current studies have found that millions of people disregard warning signs regarding their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global problem, though these studies were exclusively carried out in the UK). Knowledge is a big part of the problem. It’s rather intuitive to be fearful of sharks. But the majority of people don’t have an overt fear of loud sounds. And how do you know how loud is too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Noises

Your ears are not just in peril at a rock concert or on the floor of a machine shop (not to minimize the hearing risks of these scenarios). Many common sounds can be dangerous. That’s because it isn’t only the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also the duration. Even low-level noises, including dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your hearing when experienced for more than two hours.

Read on to find out when sound becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this sound level. At this volume, there won’t be any limit to how long you can safely be exposed.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and lawn equipment are at this volume. This volume will usually become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
  • 90 – 95 dB: Think of how loud a motorcycle is. This level of exposure becomes hazardous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 100 dB: This is the level of noise you might encounter at a mid-size sports 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: Have you ever cranked your Spotify music up to max volume? On most smartphones, that’s about this volume. This level of exposure is dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or very large sporting events) can result in immediate damage and pain in your ears.

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

Generally, you’re hearing is in danger when you’re experiencing 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 that’s one reason why hearing cautions commonly go ignored, when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is specifically true. Here are a couple of potential solutions:

  • Get an app: Your hearing can’t be directly protected with an app. But there are several free apps that can work as sound level monitors. Damage to your ears can happen without you recognizing it because it’s tough to recognize just how loud 85 dB feels. Using this app to monitor noise levels, then, is the solution. Utilizing this approach will make it more instinctive to distinguish when you are going into the “danger zone”. (Or, the app will simply tell you when things get too loud).
  • Suitable signage and training: This applies to workspaces, in particular. The real hazards of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the advantages of hearing protection). Signage could also let you know just how loud your workspace is. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is necessary or suggested.

When in Doubt: Protect

No app and no signage will ever be 100%. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to protect your ears. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing problems. And it’s easier than ever to harm your ears (all you need to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too high).

You shouldn’t raise the volume past mid way, especially if you’re listening all day. If you keep turning it up to hear your music over background sound you need different headphones that have noise cancellation.

That’s why it’s more essential than ever to acknowledge when loud becomes too loud. And to do that, you need to raise your own recognition and knowledge level. Protecting your ears, wearing ear protection, or decreasing your exposure, is pretty simple. That begins with a little knowledge of when you should do it.

These days that should also be easier. That’s even more relevant now that you have some insight.

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