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Firearm Use and Hearing

Information from: OMY Mobile Medical

The use of firearms for hunting or target practice is one of the most common sources of exposure to non-occupational noise and represents the most serious threat to hearing of all leisure activities. Unlike loud continuous noise that can cause a gradual hearing loss over a long period of time, firearm noise can cause instantaneous loss with as little as one exposure. Although impulse type noise only lasts for a few thousandths of a second, the extreme force it generates has the potential to destroy the delicate tissue in the inner ear.


Some firearms are much louder than others. Surveys show that firearms have a noise range from approximately 140dB for smaller caliber to over 170dB for larger caliber firearms. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that exposure to one impulse noise per day over about 150 dB has the potential to damage hearing. Modifying the barrel of a gun by drilling a hole to reduce recoil (muzzle brakes) can increase firearm impulse noise output by as much as 11dB. Doing this sends the shock wave back toward the shooter instead of out of the front of the gun through the barrel.


Hunters can greatly reduce their chances of developing a hearing loss by wearing hearing protection devises (HPD’s). It is expected that the use of HPD’s during hunting would be low; however hunters can wear them during target practice.


Often, people with a noise induced hearing loss think that others mumble. They sometimes give the impression that they are not listening, when in fact they do not understand. To make matters worse, they sometimes experience ringing and roaring in their ears called tinnitus that can add to the aggravation. Protect your ears and reduce the chance of getting permanent noise induced hearing loss.


Hearing Protection Devices (HPD’s)


Choose a HPD that attenuates sound adequately and is comfortable to wear for long periods of time. For the ultimate in protection, wear insert plugs under earmuffs. Using HPD can actually help improve your aim because you will flinch less in anticipation of the “big boom” of your gun.


Because most hunting involves listening for the approaching game, wearing conventional HPDs is not always practical. However, there are solutions to this problem.


* Use a specially designed level-dependent HPD with a filter or valve mechanism to let more low level sounds pass and yet provide increasing protection with increasing sound level.


* A more costly option is to use electronic hearing protective devises (EHPDs). An amplifier increases low and moderate level sounds that can improve hearing ability, but is also equipped with a special circuit which prevents loud sounds from reaching damaging levels in the ear. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. Discuss your options with your doctor or even your local sporting goods stores. They can help you choose which is best for you.