Why is shooting without hearing protection dangerous?
Hearing protection for shooting sports is essential since hearing loss is the US’s third most common chronic physical condition. Loud sounds can damage sensitive tiny hair-like structures in your inner ear, causing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and tinnitus (ringing, roaring, or buzzing in the ears). The louder the sound, the faster it can damage your hearing. If you are neglecting to wear protection when shooting, it can take a severe toll and cause hearing loss gradually over time. If you do not always wear protective ear gear when shooting a firearm, you risk permanent damage.
Gunfire is dangerous to unprotected ears.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is something you can prevent and is part of firearms safety. Every day, we experience sounds in our environment, such as the sounds from television, radio, traffic, etc. Usually, these sounds are at safe levels that don’t damage our hearing. But sounds can be harmful when they are too loud, even for a brief time, or when they are both loud and long-lasting. These sounds can damage sensitive inner ear structures and cause noise-induced hearing loss.
What causes NIHL?
NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over time, such as noise generated in target shooting and hunting. It can be immediate or take a long time to be noticeable, temporary, or permanent, affecting one or both ears. Even if you can’t tell that you are damaging your hearing, you could have trouble hearing in the future.
Are your ears ringing after a gunshot?
Exposure to noise above 85 decibels (dB) can cause permanent hearing loss. It can result from a single nearby shotgun blast or loud noise. As the pressure increases, the eardrum may break open (rupture). Damage to the eardrum can also occur from a loud noise close to the ear, such as a gunshot. If the conditions are right, people who do not wear hearing protection while shooting can suffer severe hearing loss with as little as one shot. Audiologists, health care professionals who identify, assess, and manage hearing disorders, see this often, especially during hunting season when hunters and bystanders may be exposed to rapid fire from firearms.
Decibel levels of gunfire
Being subjected to noise exceeding 140 dB can permanently damage your hearing ability. A rifle of caliber 22 LR can reach that decibel level. In general, any firearm can damage our hearing. Your distance from the source of the sound and the length of time you are exposed to the sound are also important factors in hearing protection. A good rule – avoid noises that are too loud, too close, or last too long.
Average decibel ratings of some familiar sounds:
- – Normal conversation – 60-70 dBA
- – Movie theater – 74-104 dBA
- – Motorcycle – 80-110 dBA
- – Music through headphones at maximum volume, sporting events, and concerts – 94-110 dBA
- – Sirens – 110-129 dBA
- – Fireworks show – 140-160 dBA
- – Shotgun – 160+ dBA
Symptoms of hearing loss
Early warning signs of hearing loss you shouldn’t ignore. Hearing loss can be tricky to notice in the early stages; often, we don’t consider what we are experiencing to be actual hearing loss. Unlike noise-induced hearing loss or hearing loss that happens due to trauma, regular hearing loss can creep up on you. Hearing loss that happens in increments does have some indicators in the early stages. If you are experiencing one or more of these, you should get a hearing test.
Experiencing signs of hearing loss that need to be checked out by an audiologist:
Ringing in Your Ears
Noise-induced hearing loss and age-related hearing loss can cause tinnitus or ringing ears. Not always referred to as ringing, it can be experienced as these common signs:
- – Whooshing
- – Ringing
- – High pitched squeal
- – Buzzing
- – Throbbing
- – Music
Confusion in Crowds
One of the early signs that hearing loss is happening is that it becomes more of a challenge to distinguish between noises in social settings and noisy environments. Things like parties where there are music and people talking can mean it is hard to keep track of a conversation.
Often, we don’t notice we are missing sounds until it happens. It could be the telephone ringing or the beeping of the machines in the house, the voices of children, or not hearing the light ticking of your blinkers on the car. We often don’t notice these noises are gone until someone points them out – because hearing loss can be gradual.
Perhaps you feel tired after a long work meeting; this can be listening to fatigue. It’s when you must concentrate particularly hard for most of the day or have trouble hearing conversations in a group gathering and other things happening around you. Hearing is a brain activity, and when your auditory system is compromised with hearing loss, your brain needs to put in more effort to listen – and fill in any gaps. When the signal between the inner ear isn’t working, your brain must use everything to fill the gaps. You may find yourself very tired after social situations.
Throw or Show
High-frequency hearing loss, which happens gradually, loses the ability to differentiate between consonants which are usually in the higher-frequency range. Sounds that are most likely to cause a problem include Sh, V, K, Th, F, and S, along with other high-pitched sounds like whistles, the voices of women and children, birds chirping, and musical instruments such as the flute. These consonant sounds can be very similar, and when they aren’t being heard correctly can cause essential parts of conversations to be missing.
How to prevent hearing damage from gunfire?
Shooting and hunting are two popular sports when hearing protection is critical to prevent hearing loss. It’s essential to wear hearing protection during a shooting session because they add an extra layer of security. It’s tempting to assume your hearing is the last thing you should protect, yet it’s one of the most vulnerable parts.
Reasons why wearing hearing protection is critical:
- – It dulls the noise
- – Hearing loss isn’t always gradual
- – Side effects range in severity
What are the different types of ear protection available when shooting a firearm?
Luckily, hearing protective technology has come far to help you make an informed decision. There are devices that allow you to hear soft noises while blocking out loud noises like gunshots. Protection is one way you can prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
The best ear protection methods currently:
Earplugs – passive
They are the easiest way to protect your eardrums, and many earplug options exist. You should inspect the strength and ensure it fits your ear. Earplugs are great if you don’t enjoy the closeness of earmuffs.
Earmuffs – passive
These go over your ear, providing better comfort and all-over noise protection. Some higher-quality earmuffs have unique features and protect against louder firearms better than others. However, earmuffs also have drawbacks, mainly that you can’t hear other people in your group. They are designed to fit your head snugly, reduce most sounds, even at close range, and are the easiest and most effective options.
Electronic Earmuffs – active
Active ear protection is a noise-canceling type of ear protection that detects everyday speech and amplifies it through each headphone on the earmuff. However, when something is louder than 80 dB, all incoming sound is muted. Not only are these earmuffs a more convenient way to go shooting or with a group, but you still protect your ears.
Active ear protection
Decides which noises are friendly and lets them pass into the ear canal. Active earplugs, typically electronic, are fast becoming the go-to choice for shooters and hunters who want the ideal balance between their sport and hearing health.
All about hunter’s ears.
Hunter’s ear protection allows those shooting firearms to hear softer sounds while still protecting the ears from loud sounds like firearm noise. Hunting hearing aids are small devices that fit in or behind the ear. These devices amplify ambient sound so you can hear your surroundings better than you could with your naked ears. When a weapon is fired, the amplifier circuit reacts instantly, limiting the volume in your ears to a safe level. Once the loud sound passes, the device resumes amplifying the ambient sound.
Can I wear my normal hearing aid device while shooting?
Wearing your normal hearing aid device when shooting is not recommended. Hearing aids will enhance any sound in the area; you can risk severely damaging your hearing. There are two problems with wearing hearing aids when shooting a firearm:
- The sound from a gunshot happens so fast that the hearing aid technology might not be fast enough to go into abrupt noise cancellation mode.
- The impact noise of a loud gun may damage the microphone and cause the aid to fail.
What is shooter’s ear?
Shooter’s ear is the informal term for hearing loss caused by gunfire and the proximity to firearms. Hearing loss occurs in the opposite ear of the shooting (where the shooter holds up their gun). The shooting arm’s shoulder helps block the ear from the blast, thus resulting in hearing loss in the opposite ear. Shooters may also experience a ringing sound or feel as if their ears are muffled. This is known as temporary threshold shift (TTS), which results in tinnitus or temporary hearing loss after shooting a firearm. Hearing loss can be caused by repeated exposure to the loud sounds of gunshots, or it can occur after one deafening blast. Symptoms of shooter’s ear that you’re likely to experience are high-frequency hearing loss and ringing. Your ears need all their highly sensitive components to hear high frequencies, and those components are the first to get damaged by loud noises.
Ears ringing from a gunshot?
When shooting a firearm, it produces a loud burst of sound, causing a blow of energy that rattles the eardrum, little bones in the inner ear, and the cochlea, a fluid-filled organ with thousands of tiny hair-like structures that convert sounds from the outside world into electrical impulses the brain can understand. You may notice your ears feel stopped up when you’re done shooting a firearm, and you can’t hear as well as you could before you began. That’s called a temporary threshold shift. The more you subject your ears to noises like gunshots, the more likely temporary change becomes permanent.
How It Happens
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), most firearms generate a noise level of over 140 dB (decibels). That’s the level at which damage to your hearing starts to occur. A .22 caliber rifle registers at about 140 dB, a 12-gauge shotgun can hit 155 dB, a 9mm produces 159.8 dB, and a big-bore rifle, along with other pistols, reaches noise levels of over 175 dB. In addition, the environment where the shooting takes place can contribute to even higher noise levels, such as the gunshot bouncing off the walls or other structures. Those loud sounds produce energy waves that hit your inner ear. They can rattle the eardrum, small bones, and cochlea and create problems. When those pieces get rattled enough to experience damage, you’ll most likely start losing your ability to hear.
You may only experience ringing or a temporary clogged feeling after you submit your ears to loud noise. But the more you submit your ears to that damage, the less likely that feeling is temporary.
What to do if you detect early signs of hearing loss?
You should speak to a qualified hearing care provider; certified audiologist right away to limit the damage and maintain your hearing. Trained audiologists evaluate your hearing through hearing tests, a hearing health survey and provide their professional opinion on hearing aid devices.
Hearing loss is a danger to your health that stalks all shooters and hunters if you don’t wear hearing protection. There are enough affordable solutions in the market to avoid hearing loss.