A Quick Guide to Protecting Your Hearing

a pair of standard foam ear plugs

Looking after your hearing and your ears are vital as damage to the auditory system can be irreparable. Our auditory system is very delicate and susceptible to damage. One of the biggest causes of permanent hearing loss and tinnitus is excessive loud noise. However, even everyday sounds and environments can cause problems. 

What is a safe noise level?

We measure noise on the decibel (dB) scale, and 140dB is the level at which most people start to experience pain. However, those with sensitive hearing may find lower levels uncomfortable. When looked at over time, 85dB for eight hours a day is the generally accepted safe level. Beyond this can cause damage to hearing. If you are continually exposed to noise of 80dB or higher in your work environment, your employer should carry out risk assessments and provide you with ear protection

The length of time you are exposed to sounds over 85 decibels also matters. With every three-decibel increase, the sound intensity doubles.

How loud is 85 dB?

To give you an idea of how loud this is, compare it to the following sounds:

  • whispering – 30dB
  • conversation – 60dB
  • heavy traffic – 70-85dB
  • motorbike – 90dB
  • listening to music on full volume through earphone – 100-110dB
  • plane taking off – 120dB

How can you tell if sounds are too loud? 

We do not know how loud sounds are when you are out and about. There are apps for smartphones and tools available, but these are not always accurate. Generally speaking, if you are struggling to have a conversation with somebody two meters away because of the noise, it is probably too loud. Activities such as music concerts, nightclubs, shooting for sport, motorbikes, power tools and listening to music through earphones can mean that you are exposed to harmful levels of noise. If afterward, you have ringing in your ears or cannot hear properly, this may be a sign that you have damaged your hearing. While it may only be temporary, over time, repeated exposure can lead to more significant and permanent hearing loss.

If noise is loud enough to hurt your ears, you should leave, move or stop the activity as soon as possible. The louder the sound and the longer you are exposed to it, the higher the risk to your hearing.

Protecting your ears

Protecting your ears can go a long way towards looking after your auditory system. Here are some things that you can do to protect your ears:

  • Where possible, wear earplugs if you are swimming in cold water or rough waters.
  • Do not push anything into your ear canal, especially not cotton buds.
  • Have your hearing checked annually by an audiologist and ask them to help reduce any buildup of wax
  • Keep an eye on any changes to your hearing or symptoms of tinnitus and speak to your audiologist about any concerns as soon as possible.

Listening to music

Listening to music on earphones can cause considerable damage to your hearing, even if the music does not seem particularly loud. To protect your hearing while listening to music, follow these tips:

  • Use headphones rather than inner-ear phones. Neither is ideal, but headphones are the better choice of the two.
  • Set your volume levels when you are in a quieter environment rather than a noisy one with lots of competing sounds
  • If you can’t hear the people around you speaking, it is too loud – turn them down.
  • Don’t listen to music when being distracted could be dangerous, such as when driving or operating machinery.
  • Pay attention to how long you listen to loud music. Your ears begin to adjust after a while, and you may find that you do not notice if the music is too loud as your ears can cope with volume levels that are too high and hazardous to your hearing.
  • The louder the volume, the less time it takes for your hearing to be affected. If listening to music you experience ringing or buzzing in your ears or speech sounds muted, stop listening and visit your audiologist as soon as possible to get your hearing checked. 

At home

  • Become familiar with the decibel levels of everyday activities such as mowing the lawn or using a hairdryer
  • DIY – if you are a DIY enthusiast, be aware of the noise levels of power tools such as drills, hammers and circular saws. Invest in a set of earplugs or ear defenders
  • Acoustically optimize your home by putting in carpets and soundproofing. 

For more information on how to protect your hearing and ears and help if you think you have damaged your hearing, get in touch with Valley Hearing Center today at 831-240-4162.