Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

Realizing you should safeguard your hearing is one thing. It’s a different story to know when to protect your ears. It’s more difficult than, let’s say, recognizing when you need sunscreen. (Is the sun out and are you going to be outdoors? Then you need sunblock.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is easier (Doing some hammering? Working with a saw or dangerous chemicals? Wear eye protection).

It can feel as though there’s a significant grey area when addressing when to wear ear protection, and that can be risky. Frequently, we’ll defer to our natural tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a specified place or activity is dangerous.

Risk Assessments

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. To prove the point, check out some examples:

  • A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. 3 hours is around how long the concert lasts.
  • Person B owns a landscaping company. She spends a considerable amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads a book.
  • Person C is an office worker.

You might presume that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) may be in more hearing danger. Ann leaves the performance with her ears ringing, and she’ll spend the majority of the next day, trying to hear herself talk. It seems reasonable to presume that Ann’s recreation was very risky.

The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is exposed to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So her ears must be safer, right? Well, not quite. Because Betty is mowing all day. So despite the fact that her ears never ring out with pain, the injury builds up slowly. If experienced too often, even moderately loud noise can have a negative affect on your ears.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Lawnmowers have instructions that point out the hazards of ongoing exposure to noise. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute each day on the train. Also, although she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to consider protection?

When is it Time to Worry About Safeguarding Your Ears?

Generally, you need to turn the volume down if you have to shout to be heard. And you really should consider using earmuffs or earplugs if your surroundings are that loud.

The cutoff needs to be 85dB if you want to get scientific. Sounds above 85dB have the ability, over time, to cause damage, so in those circumstances, you should think about using ear protection.

Your ears don’t have a built-in decibel meter to alert you when you reach that 85dB level, so countless hearing specialists suggest downloading special apps for your phone. You will be able to take the required steps to safeguard your hearing because these apps will inform you when the noise is getting to a hazardous volume.

A Few Examples

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

  • Exercise: Your morning spin class is a great example. Or maybe your nighttime yoga session? You might think about using hearing protection to each one. Those trainers who use sound systems and microphones (and loud music) to motivate you might be good for your heart rate, but all that loudness is bad for your ears.
  • Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re just waiting downtown for work or boarding the train. The constant noise of living in the city, when experienced for 6-8 hours every day, can cause damage to your ears over the long haul, specifically if you’re turning up your music to hear it over the commotion.
  • Working With Power Tools: You understand you will require hearing protection if you work every day in a factory. But what if you’re just puttering around your garage all day? Even if it’s just a hobby, hearing specialists recommend using hearing protection if you’re using power equipment.
  • Listening to music with earbuds. This one requires caution, more than protection. Pay attention to how loud the music is, how long you’re listening to it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a smart choice to prevent having to turn the volume way up.
  • Household Chores: We already discussed how something as simple as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can necessitate hearing protection. Cutting the grass is a great example of the type of household job that may cause injury to your ears but that you probably don’t think about all that often.

A good baseline might be established by these examples. When in doubt, though, you should defer to protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your hearing than to leave them exposed to possible damage down the road. Protect today, hear tomorrow.

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