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 easy to understand that you shouldn’t ignore a caution like that. You might even think twice about swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). Inexplicably, though, it’s difficult for people to heed warnings concerning their hearing in the same way.

Current studies have found that millions of people neglect warning signs regarding their hearing (this research specifically looked at populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s little doubt the problem is more global than that). Part of the issue is knowledge. To be afraid of sharks is rather intuitive. But most people don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And the real question is, what volume level is too loud?

Loud And Dangerous Sound is All Around us

Your ears are not just in peril at a live concert or on the floor of a machine shop (although both of those situations are, without a doubt, hazardous to your hearing). There are potential dangers with many every-day sounds. That’s because it’s not exclusively the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also how long you’re exposed. Your hearing can be damaged with even low level noises like dense city traffic if you experience it for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Read on to find out when sound becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: Normal conversation would be at this volume level. You should be just fine at this level for an indefinite time period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, lawn equipment, or an air conditioning unit. This level of sound will usually become dangerous after two hours of exposure.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good illustration of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be unsafe at this level of sound.
  • 100 dB: This is the level of sound you may 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 unsafe at this sound level.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up to max? On most smartphones, that’s about this volume. 5 minutes will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
  • 120 dB and over: Immediate pain and injury can occur at or above this volume (think about an arena sized sporting event or rock show).

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

In general, you’re in the danger zone when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or higher. But it can be hard to recognize how loud 85 dB is and that’s the issue. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.

And that’s one reason why hearing warnings commonly go neglected, specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. There are a couple of potential solutions to this:

  • Sufficient signage and training: This particularly refers to workspaces. Training and signage can help reinforce the significant dangers of hearing loss (and the advantages of hearing protection). Signage could also let you know just how noisy your workspace is. Training can tell employees when hearing protection is needed or recommended.
  • Download an app: There isn’t an app that’s going to immediately protect your ears. But there are several free apps that can work as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to judge what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be injured without you even realizing it. Utilizing this app to keep track of noise levels, then, is the solution. This can help you establish a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (Or, the app will merely tell you when things get too loud).

When in Doubt: Protect

Apps and signage aren’t a foolproof answer. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to safeguard your ears. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing issues. And these days, it’s never been easier to injure your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).

You shouldn’t increase the volume past half way, especially if you’re listening all day. If you keep turning it up to hear your music over background noise you need different headphones that can block out noise.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to recognize it. And to do this, you need to raise your own recognition and knowledge level. Protecting your ears, wearing ear protection, or limiting your exposure, is not that difficult. That begins with a little recognition of when you should do it.

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

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