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

Have you ever gone to the beach and noticed one of those “Beware of Shark” signs? It’s not hard to understand that you should never ignore a caution like that. A sign like that (particularly if written in huge, red letters) might even make you rethink your swim altogether. Inexplicably, though, it’s harder for people to heed warnings concerning their hearing in the same way.

Current studies have found that millions of individuals neglect warning signs regarding their hearing (there’s little doubt that this is a global problem, though these studies were exclusively done in the UK). Knowledge is a huge part of the problem. To be afraid of sharks is fairly intuitive. But fear of loud noise? And the real question is, what volume level is too loud?

We’re Surrounded by Hazardously Loud Noises

Your hearing isn’t just in danger at a live concert or on the floor of a machine shop (although both of those venues are, indeed, hazardous to your hearing). Many common sounds can be dangerous. That’s because the duration of sound is as dangerous as the volume. Your hearing can be harmed with even low level sounds like dense city traffic if you experience it for more than a couple of hours at a time.

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

  • 30 dB: This is the volume level you would find in normal conversation. You should be just fine at this level for an indefinite length of time.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and a lawnmower are at this volume. This volume will normally become damaging after two hours of exposure.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good illustration of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be harmful at this volume.
  • 100 dB: An oncoming subway train or a mid-sized sporting event are at this sound level (depending on the city, of course). This volume can get hazardous after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever turned your Spotify music up to max volume? That’s normally around this volume 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 concerts or exceptionally large sports events) can produce immediate injury and pain in your ears.

How Loud is 85 Decibels?

In general, you should look at anything 85 dB or higher as putting your hearing in danger. But it can be hard to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the difficulty. A shark is a tangible thing but sound isn’t so tangible.

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

  • Suitable signage and training: This is true of workspaces, in particular. Signage and training can help reinforce the significant risks of hearing loss (and the benefits of hearing protection). Signage could also inform you just how loud your workplace is. Training can tell employees when hearing protection is needed or suggested.
  • Download an app: Your ears can’t be immediately protected with an app. But there are a few sound level metering apps. It’s hard to determine what 85 dB feels like so your hearing can be damaged without you even knowing it. Utilizing this app to monitor sound levels, then, is the answer. Using this strategy will make it more instinctive to identify when you are moving into the “danger zone”. (and you will also discern immediately when things are getting too loud).

If You’re in Doubt, Protect Yourself

No signage or app will ever be perfect. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to safeguard your hearing. Over a long enough duration, noise damage will almost certainly create hearing issues. And nowadays, it’s never been easier to harm your ears (all you have to do is turn your headphone volume up a little too high).

You shouldn’t raise the volume past half way, especially if you’re listening all day. You require noise cancellation headphones if you are always turning up the volume to cover up background sound.

That’s the reason why it’s more essential than ever to recognize when loud becomes too loud. 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 pretty simple. But you have to recognize when to do it.

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

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