The affect that the loud noise which comes from firing a gun has on our hearing, is something that is an increasingly important topic. This is evident in the recent introduction of the Hearing Protection Act (HPA), which was introduced to remove suppressors from the purview of the National Firearms Act (NFA). If you want to read more about what the HPA entails, you can have a look at the American Suppressor Association (ASA) article about it here.
When we are exposed to extended periods of loud noise our hearing can be affected. When we are at the shooting range or out hunting, the noise levels from gunshots typically exceed the noise levels that our ears can handle without suffering some damage.
How loud is too loud?
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), when a person is repeatedly exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels (decibels is the measure of sound intensity) or more, a person can start suffering what is known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). To give you an idea how that translates to everyday noises, a normal conversation is measured at approximately 60 decibels and a lawnmower at approximately 90 decibels. However a shot from a 9mm pistol is approximately 160 decibels! That is even louder than a jet taking off, which is measured at approximately 140 decibels.
The NIDCD also goes on to say that the louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for NIHL to happen.
The graphic below shows how everyday noises compare with gunshot noise.
Source: The Smoking Barrel USA
How do you know if your hearing has been affected?
There are a few symptoms that you can look out for when you suspect that you may have suffered some damage due to extended exposure to loud noise. These include:
- Hearing muffled sounds.
- Having difficulty distinguishing words when someone is talking to you.
- Having difficulty determining from which direction a sound is coming.
- A ringing or buzzing noise in your ears.
How do I protect my hearing when shooting?
So now that we know how important it is to protect our hearing, we can look at the methods for protecting our hearing:
As we mentioned, the HPA now makes owning a suppressor easier. It is estimated that a suppressor can reduce the noise of a gunshot by approximately 20 dB to 35 dB.
Earplugs are reasonably inexpensive but still effective. To use earplugs, you simply insert them into the inside of your ears. Of course, as technology has progressed, earplugs are no longer just pieces of foam that you plug into your ear. High-end earplugs are made from modern materials like medical-grade polymer that is soft, durable, and long-lasting.
If you are a serious shooter that goes shooting often, you should probably consider investing in a decent pair of earmuffs. They are more expensive than earplugs, but offer more in the way of comfort and effective protection. When it comes to earmuffs, you can choose regular passive earmuffs or electronic earmuffs. Electronic earmuffs are usually a little more expensive, but have additional features that the serious shooter will like. What makes electronics earmuffs special is that they have noise management technology built in. If someone is talking to you, the earmuffs will allow the softer noise of the person’s voice through, but if there is a loud noise from a gunshot it will reduce the noise level of the gunshot. Some of the electronic earmuffs even have built-in MP3 players if you want to listen to music while you are at the range.
What is the best hearing protection?
The most effective way to protect your hearing is to wear earplugs and earmuffs together. By doing this, you actually combine the protection of the earplugs and earmuffs. As an example, if your earplugs reduces noise by 26 decibels and your earmuffs reduces noise by 34 decibels, together they will reduce noise by approximately 41 decibels.
Should you wear hearing protection when hunting?
Above we covered the typical methods for protecting your hearing when shooting. However, wearing hearing protection when out hunting can be a problem for a lot of folks. Obviously when you are hunting you want to be able to hear what is going on around you, as well as not be burdened by wearing extra gear on your head. A lot of people have stated that they prefer to go without hearing protection when they are hunting, as they do not fire many shots and so are not significantly affected. Of course that is their personal choice. We do recommend though that whenever you are exposed to loud noise, even just for a short period, you should consider utilizing some form of hearing protection. Good hearing is something that can be lost forever if not looked after properly.
Be safe and happy hunting!
Article Contributor: SmokingBarrelUSA