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” signs? It’s easy to realize that you shouldn’t ignore a warning like that. You may even reconsider swimming at all with a sign like that (if the warning is written in big red letters that’s especially true). Inexplicably, though, it’s harder for people to pay attention to warnings about their hearing in the same way.

Current research has found that millions of people disregard warning signs when it comes to their hearing (these studies exclusively looked at populations in the United Kingdom, but there’s no doubt the concern is more global than that). Knowledge is a huge part of the issue. 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 recognize how loud is too loud?

Loud And Hazardous Sound is Everywhere Around us

Your ears are not just in peril at a live concert or construction site (although both of those situations are, without a doubt, harmful to your hearing). Many common sounds are potentially hazardous. That’s because the duration of sound is as harmful as the volume. Even low-level sounds, including dense city traffic, can be dangerous to your ears if you are exposed for more than a couple of hours.

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 perfectly fine at this volume for an indefinite period.
  • 80 – 85 dB: An air conditioner, dense traffic, and a lawnmower are at this level of sound. After around two hours this level of sound becomes dangerous.
  • 90 – 95 dB: A motorcycle is a good example of this sound level. This amount of exposure becomes dangerous in as little as 50 minutes of exposure.
  • 100 dB: This is the level of noise you may encounter at a mid-size sports event or an oncoming subway train (depending on the city, of course). 15 minutes of exposure will be enough to be unsafe at this sound level.
  • 110 dB: Have you ever turned your Spotify music up to ten? On most smartphones, that’s about this volume. 5 minutes will be enough to be unsafe at this level.
  • 120 dB and over: Instant pain and damage can occur at or above this volume (consider an arena sized sporting event or rock concert).

How Loud is 85 Decibels?

In general, you’re in the danger zone when you’re dealing with any sound 85 dB or louder. The issue is that it isn’t always apparent just how loud 85 dB is. A shark is a tangible thing but sound is not so tangible.

And hearing cautions commonly get neglected for this reason when the sound environment isn’t loud enough to cause pain, this is particularly true. There are a couple of potential solutions to this:

  • Adequate training and signage: This is true of workspaces, in particular. The significant dangers of hearing loss can be reinforced by signage and training (and the benefits of protecting your hearing). Also, just how noisy your workspace is, can be clarified by signage. Training can help employees know when hearing protection is necessary or recommended.
  • Download an app: There isn’t an app that’s going to directly safeguard your ears. But there are a number of free apps that can work as sound level monitors. It’s hard to assess what 85 dB feels like so your ears can be damaged without you even realizing it. Using this app to keep track of sound levels, then, is the solution. Using this method will make it more instinctual to recognize when you are going 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 flawless. So when in doubt, take the time to protect your hearing. Noise damage, over a long enough time period, can result in hearing loss. And it’s easier than ever to injure your ears (it’s a simple matter of listening to your tunes too loudly).

You shouldn’t increase the volume past mid way, especially if you’re listening all day. You require noise cancellation headphones if you are constantly turning up the volume to block out background sound.

So when volume becomes too loud, it’s important to recognize it. And in order to do this, you need to raise your own awareness and knowledge level. Safeguarding your ears, using ear protection, or reducing your exposure, is easy enough. That starts with a little knowledge of when you need to do it.

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

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