Hearing loss stems from many causes. While for some it is present from birth, a variety of life events can also trigger hearing loss, in cases that are both temporary and minor to permanent and serious. A bout of tinnitus, a ringing or pulsing in the ears, can be triggered by exposure to loud noise or even certain medications, and tinnitus is often coupled with some degree of hearing loss.
There are a number of things we can do to be proactive in preventing hearing loss; those who work in loud industrial or military settings often wear ear protection and this can be helpful for concertgoers as well.
The shooting range is certainly among the top places where our ears are endangered by loud noise, and those who participate in shooting as a hobby, whether at ranges or hunting in the outdoors, should consider the risks associated with the exposure to such noise and ear plugs are not always enough. Taking the time to research the proper protection and wear it without exception could prevent future hearing loss.
How Does Loud Noise Affect Our Hearing?
Noise-induced hearing loss affects millions of people. Exposure to loud noise can damage the delicate workings of our inner ears, and it may not always be noticeable immediately after exposure. It can affect one or both ears and, in some cases, are temporary while others are permanent. In general, sounds that occur at 85 decibels or more are the primary ones to cause hearing loss (though it should be noted even prolonged exposure to sounds at lower decibels can also cause hearing loss).
To give you an idea of the range of sound decibels, an everyday conversation with a friend is likely to be in the range of 60 decibels, whereas gunfire is in the range of 150 decibels. Obviously, your distance from the sound is a key factor in how it is going to affect your hearing.
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when loud sounds enter the ear and damage hair cells; these hair cells in the inner ear are an important component in how sound travels to our brain. They don’t grow back if damage leads to the eventual death of the cells.
The increased use of personal devices to stream music through ear buds has contributed to an increase in noise-induced hearing loss and this is a likely cause of increased cases of hearing loss in younger generations. It is also possible that other factors will make individuals more susceptible to hearing loss, such as smoking or a poor diet. There has been research into links between illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and hearing loss, and it is important to be aware of any health concerns or lifestyle choices that could play a role in preventing hearing loss.
How Can I Protect My Ears While Shooting?
Ear protection is incredibly important for anyone exposed to loud noise, whether you are a drummer in a rock band, an assembly worker in a loud factory, or an avid hunter. Taking the necessary precautions to protect your hearing can save you from living with the burdens of hearing loss, a condition that can dramatically impact the quality of life and relationships with family and friends. Forgetting ear protection even just once can lead to hearing loss that could have been avoided.
Not all hearing protection is created equally and some products are tailored to specific hobbies and occupations. For those who shoot as a hobby or hunt frequently, it is critical to choose hearing protection designed specifically for shooters.
Devices designed to protect hearing will come with a noise reduction rating, indicating the amount of sound exposure they will limit is a specific environment. The general rule of thumb is the higher the noise reduction rating, the better protection for the wearer.
Standard hearing protection devices will physically block noises; however, electronic hearing protection takes it a step further. These devices can detect a gunshot and drown the sound out completely.
Electronic protection is by far the better choice in terms of preventing hearing loss; however, it comes with a higher price tag. If budget constraints do not allow you to purchase electronic hearing protection, it is still better to use a standard device than none at all. Ear muff styles (versus ear plug styles) are a better choice for shooters.
What Are the Best Hearing Protection Options Available for Shooting?
There are a wide variety of hearing protection products marketed toward shooters and we will take a look at a few popular options you may wish to consider:
These electronic shooting earmuffs have built-in microphones, the ability to automatically shut off amplification over certain levels, low profile ear cuffs and an adjustable headband, and an automatic shutoff feature after four hours, which preserves battery life.
These shooting ear muffs are a cheaper “no frills” option that still provides good protection while shooting. They are lightweight and compact, making them ideal for travel.
These ear muffs are favored by smaller shooters or those who prefer an especially tight fit. They are also compact and lightweight and suitable for travel.
What if I Have Already Experienced Hearing Loss While Shooting?
Ultimately, there is no treatment for noise-reduced hearing loss. Those who have experienced it cannot look to medication or surgery to correct the issue; however, they can take proactive steps to prevent it from getting worse. Obviously, avoiding loud noises and/or wearing protection is your best bet. It’s possible that current research will lead to medical innovations to treat noise-induced hearing loss in the future… but for now, it is best to take the right steps to prevent it from happening altogether.