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

You ever go to the beach and see one of those “Beware of Shark” warning signs? It’s not exactly a sign you dismiss. You may even think twice about swimming at all with a sign like that (if the sign is written in big red letters that’s particularly true). Inexplicably, though, it’s more challenging for people to heed warnings concerning their hearing in the same way.

Current studies have found that millions of people neglect warning signs when it comes to their hearing (there’s little doubt that this is a global challenge, though this research was exclusively conducted in the UK). Awareness is a huge part of the problem. Fear of sharks is pretty intuitive. But the majority of people don’t have an overt fear of loud noises. And the real question is, what’s too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Dangerously Loud Noises

It isn’t just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that present dangers to your ears (although both of those venues are, indeed, hazardous to your hearing). There are potential risks with many every-day sounds. That’s because it isn’t exclusively the volume of a sound that is dangerous; it’s also the duration. Your hearing can be damaged with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you experience it for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Broadly speaking, here’s a rough outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: Everyday conversation would be at this volume level. At this level, there won’t be a limit to how long you can confidently be exposed.
  • 80 – 85 dB: This is the volume of heavy traffic, a lawnmower, or an air conditioner. This level of sound will usually become harmful after two hours of exposure.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good illustration of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be dangerous at this level of sound.
  • 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you may encounter at a mid-size sporting event or an oncoming subway train (of course, this depends on the city). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever turned your Spotify music up to ten? On most smartphones, that’s right around this volume. This level of exposure becomes dangerous after only 5 minutes of exposure.
  • 120 dB and over: Any sound over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or exceptionally large sports events) can result in instant injury and pain in your ears.

How Loud is 85 Decibels?

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 know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.

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

  • Sufficient training and signage: This goes for the workplace, in particular. Signage and training can help reinforce the real hazards of hearing loss (and the benefits of hearing protection). Additionally, just how loud your workspace is, can be made clear by signage. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is necessary or suggested.
  • Download an app: There isn’t an app that will directly protect your ears. But there are several free apps that can function as sound level monitors. It’s difficult to assess what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be damaged without you even realizing it. The solution, then, is to have this app working and track the sound levels around you. This can help you establish a sense for when you’re entering the “danger zone” (and you will also recognize immediately when things are getting too noisy).

When in Doubt: Protect

Signage and apps aren’t a foolproof answer. So take the time to protect your ears if you have any doubt. Noise damage, over a long enough period of time, can bring about hearing loss. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to injure your ears (it’s a straight forward matter of listening to your music too loudly).

You shouldn’t raise the volume past mid way, specifically 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.

That’s why it’s more essential than ever to recognize when loud becomes too loud. Raising your own understanding and recognition is the answer if you want to do that. It isn’t difficult to reduce your exposure or at least use hearing protection. That starts with a little recognition of when you need to do it.

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

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