Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

It’s one thing to know that you need to safeguard your ears. Knowing when to safeguard your ears is a different story. It’s not as simple as, for example, knowing when to use sunblock. (Is it sunny and are you going to be outside? Then you need sunblock.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is easier (Handling hazardous chemicals? Doing some construction? You need eye protection).

When it comes to when to wear hearing protection, there seems to be a large grey area which can be dangerous. Frequently, we’ll defer to our natural tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a specific activity or place is dangerous.

Risk Evaluations

In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as damage to the ears or the possibility of long term sensorineural hearing loss. Let’s take some examples to prove the point:

  • A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. The concert lasts approximately 3 hours.
  • Person B owns a landscaping company. After mowing lawns all day, she goes home to quietly read a book.
  • Person C works in an office.

You might think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less clinical) might be in more hearing danger. For most of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud show. It seems reasonable to assume that Ann’s recreation was quite risky.

Person B (let’s just call her Betty), on the other hand, is exposed to less noise. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be safer for her ears, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing all day. So even though her ears don’t ring out with pain, the damage builds up slowly. Even moderate noises, if experienced with enough frequency, can damage your ears.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less evident. Lawnmowers come with instructions that point out the risks of long-term exposure to noise. But despite the fact that Chris has a relatively quiet job, her long morning commute through the city each day is rather loud. Additionally, although she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to give some thought to protection?

When is it Time to Worry About Safeguarding Your Ears?

Generally speaking, you should turn the volume down if you have to raise your voice to be heard. And you should think about wearing earplugs or earmuffs if your surroundings are that loud.

So to put this a little more clinically, you should use 85dB as your limit. Sounds above 85dB have the capacity, over time, to lead to damage, so in those scenarios, you need to think about wearing ear protection.

Your ears don’t have their own sound level meter to notify you when you get to that 85dB level, so many hearing specialists recommend getting special apps for your phone. You will be able to take the required steps to safeguard your ears because these apps will inform you when the sound is getting to a harmful volume.

A Few Examples

Even if you do download that app and bring it with you, your phone might not be with you wherever you go. So we might formulate a good standard with a couple of examples of when to protect our hearing. Here we go:

  • Household Chores: Even mowing a lawn, as previously mentioned, necessitates hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great example of the type of household job that might cause damage to your hearing but that you most likely won’t think about all that often.
  • Exercise: Your morning spin class is a good example. Or even your evening Pilates session? All of these examples may require ear protection. The high volume from instructors who play loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your ears.
  • Using Power Tools: You recognize you will require hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But what if you’re simply puttering around your garage all day? Most hearing specialists will suggest you use hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist level.
  • Driving & Commuting: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re riding the subway after waiting for a while downtown. The constant noise of living in the city, when experienced for between 6 and 8 hours every day, can cause injury to your hearing over the long term, particularly if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the din.
  • Listening to music with earbuds. This one calls for caution, not protection. Whether your music is playing directly into your ears, how loud it is playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you need to pay attention to. Consider getting headphones that cancel out outside noise so you don’t have to crank up the sound to damaging levels.

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