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

Have you ever seen the “Beware of Sharks” sign when you’re at the ocean? It’s not hard to realize that you should never disregard a caution like that. A warning like that (especially if written in large, red letters) might even make you rethink your swim altogether. Inexplicably, though, it’s harder for people to pay attention to warnings concerning their hearing in the same way.

Current research has found that millions of individuals disregard warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s no doubt that this is a global problem, though this research was specifically conducted in the United Kingdom). Part of the challenge is awareness. Fear of sharks is fairly instinctive. But being frightened of loud noise? And how do you recognize how loud is too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Noises

It’s not just the machine shop floor or rock concert that are dangerous to your hearing (not to downplay the hearing risks of these scenarios). There are potential dangers with many common sounds. That’s because exposure time is as harmful as the volume. Even lower-level noises, like dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your hearing when experienced for more than a couple of hours.

Read on to find out when sound gets too loud:

  • 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this volume level. At this level, there won’t be any limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, heavy traffic, and lawn equipment are at this volume. After about two hours this level of sound becomes harmful.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good illustration of this sound level. This level of exposure gets dangerous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you might experience from a mid-size sports event or an oncoming subway train (of course, this depends on the city). This volume can become dangerous after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • 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 level. 5 minutes will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock show or exceptionally large sporting events) can bring about instant damage and pain in your ears.

How Loud is 85 dB?

Generally, you should look at anything 85 dB or above as putting your ears at risk. But it can be difficult to recognize how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. It’s not tangible in the way that a shark is tangible.

And that’s one of the reasons why hearing cautions commonly go neglected, especially when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. There are a couple of possible solutions to this:

  • Download an app: Your hearing can’t be directly protected with an app. But there are several sound level metering apps. Injury to your ears can happen without you realizing it because it’s difficult to know just how loud 85 dB feels. Using this app to keep track of noise levels, then, is the solution. Utilizing this method will make it more instinctual to identify when you are moving into the “danger zone”. (Or, the app will merely tell you when things get too loud).
  • Suitable signage and training: This goes for the workplace, in particular. Training and signage can help reinforce the significant hazards of hearing loss (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). In addition, just how noisy your workplace is, can be made clear by signage. Helping employees recognize when hearing protection is suggested or necessary with proper training can be very useful.

When in Doubt: Protect

No app and no signage will ever be 100%. So make the effort to protect your ears if you are in doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can lead to hearing loss. 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 increase 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.

That’s why it’s more essential than ever to recognize when the volume becomes too loud. Raising your own understanding and awareness is the key if you want to do that. It isn’t difficult to minimize your exposure or at least wear hearing protection. But you have to know when to do it.

Today that should also be easier. That’s even more relevant now that you have some awareness.

Think you could have hearing loss? Schedule an exam.

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