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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 exactly a sign you dismiss. A sign like that (specifically if written in big, red letters) might even make you rethink your swim altogether. But people usually don’t heed warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Recent studies have found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s little doubt that this is a global problem, though this research was exclusively conducted in the United Kingdom). Part of the issue is awareness. It’s rather intuitive to be afraid of sharks. But most people don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And how do you know how loud is too loud?

Loud And Dangerous Sound is All Around us

It isn’t just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your ears (although both of those situations are, without a doubt, dangerous to your hearing). There are potential risks with many common sounds. That’s because exposure time is as hazardous as the volume. Even low-level noises, including dense city traffic, can be harmful to your ears if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.

Read on to find out when sound gets too loud:

  • 30 dB: This is the volume level you would find in normal conversation. You should be perfectly fine around this level for an indefinite length of time.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and lawn equipment are at this volume. After around two hours this level of sound becomes damaging.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good example of this sound level. This level of exposure becomes harmful in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 100 dB: An oncoming subway train or a mid-sized sports event are at this sound level (of course, this depends on the city). 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 as high as it will go? That’s normally around this sound level on most smartphones. This level of exposure is dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock show or extremely large sports events) can bring about immediate injury and pain in your ears.

How Loud is 85 dB?

Generally speaking, you’re in the danger zone when you’re experiencing any sound 85 dB or above. The issue is that it isn’t always obvious just how loud 85 dB is. A shark is a tangible thing but sound isn’t so tangible.

And hearing warnings often go ignored because of this specifically when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain. Here are a couple of possible solutions:

  • Sufficient signage and training: This especially refers to workspaces. The significant hazards of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the advantages of protecting your hearing). Additionally, just how loud your workspace is, can be clarified by signage. Helping employees know when hearing protection is recommended or necessary with proper training can be really useful.
  • Download an app: There isn’t an app that’s going to directly protect your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s hard to judge what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be injured without you even knowing it. The solution, then, is to have this app working and monitor the sound levels near you. 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 noisy).

If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself

Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof answer. So when in doubt, take the time to protect your hearing. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can lead to hearing loss. And it’s easier than ever to damage your ears (it’s a simple matter of listening to your music too loudly).

If you’re listening to headphones all day, you should not increase the volume past the half way. If you keep cranking it up to hear your music over background noise you should find different headphones that can block out noise.

That’s the reason why it’s more significant than ever to acknowledge when loud becomes too loud. And in order to do this, you need to increase your own awareness and knowledge level. It’s not difficult to minimize your exposure or at least use ear protection. That starts with a little knowledge of when you should do it.

That should be easier nowadays, too. Particularly now that you know what to look for.

Schedule a hearing exam today if you think you might have hearing loss.

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