With as little as a single shot, people who do not wear proper hearing protection while shooting a firearm can suffer an intense hearing loss if the conditions are right. Audiologists often see this during hunting season when hunters and bystanders may be exposed to rapid fire from big-bore rifles, shotguns, or pistols.
It’s essential to practice safe firearm habits—including those associated with your hearing health.
Hearing loss caused by firearm noise
Those who use guns are more likely to have hearing loss issues than those who do not. Firearm users tend to have high-frequency(HF) permanent hearing loss. To put this in context, it means they would have trouble hearing sounds in speech such as “s,” “th,” or “v” and other high-pitched sounds. People with HF hearing loss may say they can hear what is said but not clearly and may often say it sounds like others are mumbling when speaking. Often they prolong having their hearing tested because they don’t think there is a problem. They may also experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Tinnitus, similar to hearing loss, can be permanent.
Shooters ear explained
There is a classic hearing loss pattern known as “shooters ear.” Many combat and infantry veterans are at high risk of this condition.
Most shooters have a characteristic “notch” of most significant hearing loss at 4k – 6k Hz in both ears. However, rifle shooters tend to have an asymmetric hearing loss with a more considerable deficit in the opposite ear from the shoulder they fire from. So a right-handed shooter would typically show a deeper 4k Hz dip in the left ear. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the ear on the same side as the firearm is somewhat shielded by the angle of the head while shooting. The opposite ear is more exposed to the full sound of the gun’s blast.
Can I wear my hearing aids while shooting?
You should never wear your hearing aids while shooting. Take your hearing aids off and observe the ear protection procedures outlined below based on the shooting you plan to participate in.
How to prevent hearing loss from gunfire
A majority of noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. It’s essential to wear proper hearing protection based on your environment, especially children.
Safeguarding your hearing from firearm noise
Like every sport, shooting has its protective gear in this sport. When shooting guns, people can prevent hearing loss by using the appropriate hearing protective devices (HPDs), such as earmuffs or earplugs.
It’s important to remember that hearing protection choices should depend on the environment. There are two HPDs designed for shooting sports, electronic and nonlinear HPDs. Electronic HPDs make quieter sounds louder but turn off when there is a loud noise, then become hearing protection.
Nonlinear HPDs are non-electronic and designed to allow quiet and mild sounds to pass through while decreasing loud sounds. Nonlinear HPDs come in earplugs or custom-made earmolds. Nonlinear HPDs that have filters are the best choice. They are better than those that use mechanical valves due to the potential of the valves not closing quickly enough to protect hearing from loud noise.
Types of Hearing Protection based on activity:
Hunting: Because it’s important to hear what’s happening around you while hunting, you wouldn’t want hearing protection that entirely blocks out all sounds. One suggestion is to wear electronic HPDs or nonlinear HPDs while hunting. Both of these options come in earmuffs, earplugs, or custom applications.
Range shooting: Gunfire happens rapidly and continuously in this setting. Often, it occurs indoors where sound is more robust. Consider wearing a pair of earmuffs over foam earplugs to provide the best protection against hearing loss. You can purchase specialty earmuffs online or at your local sporting goods store, and foam earplugs can be purchased inexpensively at most drugstores. It’s crucial that you have a comfortable fit, so you don’t feel compelled to take them off.
Dont risk your hearing
The most crucial piece of advice with any sport is to be safe. Many of today’s phones and smartwatches allow you to install apps that will tell you how loud your environment is. When you experience an environment that is louder than you thought, you can wear hearing protection.
Remember these steps to protect your hearing
- Always wear some form of hearing protection anytime you fire a gun.
- Keep disposal HPDs on hand and as part of your gear.
- You can’t be “too safe” adding earmuffs over top of plugs when shooting larger firearms.
- Avoid shooting in reverberant environments.
- Avoid shooting in groups.
- Use electronic or nonlinear HPDs for hunting.
- Get annual screenings for your hearing to see any prevalent hearing loss.