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

Have you ever gone to the beach and seen one of those “Beware of Shark” warning signs? It’s not exactly a sign you disregard. A sign like that (especially if written in huge, red letters) may even make you rethink your swim altogether. But people don’t tend to pay attention to warnings about their hearing in the same way for some reason.

Recent studies have found that millions of individuals disregard warning signs when it comes to their hearing (this research exclusively looked at populations in the UK, but there’s little doubt the problem is more global than that). Awareness is a huge part of the issue. Being afraid of sharks is rather intuitive. But most individuals 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 Everywhere Around us

It’s not just the rock concerts or the machine shop floors that are dangerous to your ears (although both of those situations are, without a doubt, harmful to your hearing). There are potential hazards with many common sounds. That’s because it isn’t exclusively the volume of a sound that presents a danger; it’s also the duration. Even low-level sounds, like dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your ears if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.

Generally, here’s an approximate outline of when loud becomes too loud:

  • 30 dB: This is the sound level you would find in everyday conversation. You should be perfectly 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. After about two hours this level of sound becomes dangerous.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a practical illustration of this sound level. 50 minutes is enough to be unsafe at this level of sound.
  • 100 dB: This is the amount of noise you might experience from a mid-size sports event or an approaching subway train (of course, this depends on the city). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be harmful at this volume.
  • 110 dB: Do you ever crank the volume on your earpods up to max? That’s usually around this sound level on most smartphones. 5 minutes will be enough to be unsafe at this level.
  • 120 dB and over: Anything over 120 dB (think loud rock concerts or very large sporting events) can result in immediate damage and pain in your ears.

What Does 85 dB Sound Like?

Generally, you should look at anything 85 dB or louder as putting your ears at risk. But it can be hard to know how loud 85 dB is and that’s the problem. It’s not tangible the way that a shark is tangible.

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

  • Get an app: Your ears can’t be directly safeguarded with an app. But there are several free apps that can function as sound level monitors. Damage to your ears can occur without you realizing it because it’s hard to recognize just how loud 85 dB feels. Making use of this app to monitor noise levels, then, is the solution. This can help you develop a sense for when you’re going into the “danger zone” (Or, the app will simply let you know when things get too noisy).
  • Adequate signage and training: This particularly pertains to the workplace. Signage and training can help reinforce the significant hazards of hearing loss (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). Signage could also make it clear just how loud your workplace is. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is necessary or recommended.

When in Doubt: Protect

Apps and signage aren’t a foolproof solution. So if you’re in doubt, take the time to protect your hearing. Over a long enough period of time, noise damage will almost definitely create hearing issues. And these days, it’s never been easier to harm 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 raise the volume past the mid-mark. You need noise cancellation headphones if you are always cranking up the volume to block out background noise.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s essential to recognize it. And to do that, you need to increase your own recognition and knowledge level. It’s not hard to reduce your exposure or at least wear hearing protection. But you have to know when to do it.

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

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