America’s affinity for guns is practically unique across the globe; we were raised with TV and movies about police and cowboys and heroes who were all carrying guns and shooting them regularly. Regular exposure to these images is one of many reasons that there are so many American gun owners who very much enjoy firing them at shooting ranges or on hunts. The downside not conveyed to these gun users is that the people shooting guns on television and in movies probably ended up deaf, or battling with serious hearing disabilities.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a very real concern, and accounts for a sizeable percentage of hearing problems in today’s world. The damage done to hearing by loud noises takes two forms – damage caused by transient high noise levels (e.g. explosions or gunfire) and damage caused by sustained high noise levels (e.g. heavy machinery sounds).
Noise levels are measured on the decibel scale. Zero decibels is complete silence. Rustling leaves are around 20 decibels. A typical conversation is around 60 decibels. The logarithmic nature of the decibels scale is hard for many people. 50 decibels is twice as loud as 40, and 60 is four times as loud as 40 decibels. Lengthy exposure to sounds over 90 decibels (such as a lawn mower) might cause hearing loss in just a few weeks. Exposure to even quick periods of louder noises (such as a rock concert at 120 decibels) can result in permanent loss of hearing within minutes.
Gunshots have a decibel level of 140; that’s 128 times louder than normal conversation.
One matter that most gun owners and hearing professionals agree about is that nobody should be shooting a gun without wearing some sort of hearing protection. Picking the best suited hearing protection depends upon the kind of shooting you intend to do.
For outdoor or indoor shooting ranges, an over-the-ear, “muff” type headphone is favored. The muff-type headphone is able to protect your inner ear as well as the cochlear bones from the gunfire sounds. Many sport shooters who care about their hearing partner such ear muffs with in-the-ear foam plugs with a Noise Reduction Rating of 30 or more, to attain even more protection. At the top end of the price range you can also find electronic noise-cancelling headphones designed specifically for shooters, which are expensive but which will offer the highest levels of protection. Electronic noise-cancelling headphones have the additional advantage of enabling you to hear normal-volume conversations while cancelling out the transient sounds of gunfire.
If you enjoy shooting guns, before your next trip to the firingrange, talk to your hearing care expert about ear protection. They will probably have some strong advice; listen to it if you value your hearing.