Americas affinity for guns is almost unique across the globe; we were raised with television programs and movies about police and cowboys and heroic characters who were all totin guns and firing them constantly. The impression left by these visuals must have been powerful, because America continues to have millions of gun owners who shoot them on a regular basis, at ranges or while hunting. But what the movies and TV programs didnt show was that anyone firing guns on a regular basis most likely spent the last few decades of their lives deaf, or struggling with significant hearing impairments.
Hearing loss from noise exposure, known as noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL, is among the most common types of hearing disability. The damage done to the ears by loud noises has two main types damage caused by transient high noise levels (for example gunfire or explosions) and damage caused by sustained high noise levels (for example 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 decibel scale is logarithmic. 60 decibels is twice as loud as 50, 70 is four times as loud as 50, and 80 is eight times as loud as 50 decibels. Permanent loss of hearing due to noise-induced hearing loss may occur after prolonged exposure to sounds over 90 decibels in just a month or so. Similar hearing damage can happen considerably faster at higher noise levels. It only takes a couple of minutes of noises at 120 decibels, for example from a rock concert, to cause long lasting hearing damage. Gunshots have a decibel level of 140; thats 4 times louder than the jet engine.
There is one aspect of the gun debate, that everyone agrees upon. Gun lovers, average people, and hearing professionals all concur that anyone firing a gun needs to wear ear protection. Choosing the right ear protection depends on the kind of shooting you plan to do.
If the majority of your shooting is done at indoor or outdoor gun firing ranges, the best option at a sensible price is some type of over-the-ear muff type headphones that inhibit transient noise not only from reaching the inner ear but also from getting to the cochlear bones at the rear of the ear. Numerous shooters supplement the ear muffs by also putting on in-the-ear foam plugs with a NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of 30 or higher. For greater protection, select headphones with electronic noise-cancelling technology. They are the costliest choice, but do offer the maximum level of protection. Electronic noise-cancelling headphones have the added benefit of permitting you to hear normal-volume conversations while blocking out the transient gunshots.
If youre a shooter, consult your hearing care expert and ask them what style of ear protection they recommend. And always keep in mind, hearing protection wont do you a bit of good, at home, inside your backpack, or hanging around your neck. You need to use it at all times in and around the firingrange.