In my last blog post I touched on the high decibel levels produced by gunfire. Even an unsuppressed .22 can produce noise levels upward of 140 dB. This is more than enough to cause permanent hearing loss, even with limited exposure. This time I thought I would touch on a few of the ways shooting either without hearing protection, or with inadequate hearing protection can affect our hearing.
In my tenure as a hearing healthcare professional, I have seen the impact the high decibel level of firearms can have on hunters, recreational shooters, and our veterans. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, people who use firearms are more likely to develop hearing loss than those who do not. As a firearms enthusiast myself, this topic hits close to home, and is a large part of why I have pursued hearing protection as the focus of my career rather than treating hearing loss after the fact.
In this month’s blog we will explore the 3 most commonly shared traits of those suffering hearing loss from exposure to the unsafe decibel level created by firearm use.
1.) High Frequency Hearing Loss - Exposure to unsafe decibel levels can cause permanent damage in as little as one shot. The sensitive inner hair cells wither away and will not regenerate. This most commonly affects the high frequency range of hearing. This is where sounds such as “Th”, “F”, “S”, and the other starts and ends of words occur. Someone suffering from this kind of hearing loss will begin to feel as if everyone is mumbling. They will have difficulty understanding women and children as their voices are typically in the higher register. They will also begin to have increased difficulty in noisy environments such as restaurants or other public places. This type of hearing loss is permanent, and can only be treated with hearing aids.
2.) Shooters Ear - Hearing loss among the firearm community is very rarely distributed between both ears evenly. It is quite common for the ear closest to the firearm (the left ear for most right handed shooters) to suffer a higher degree of hearing loss than the other ear. This happens so frequently among shooters that it has commonly been dubbed “Shooters Ear”. This is due to what’s known as the Head Shadow or Ear Shadow effect. As sound travels from the closest ear to the farthest one the decibel level is reduced by as much as 15 dB as it travels through the head. This type of hearing loss increases difficulty hearing in noise, makes it difficult to discern which direction a sound is coming from, and can have an impact on balance. This type of damage is also irreparable and is treated with hearing aids.
3.) Tinnitus - Have you ever watched a movie where someone is too close to an explosion and the result is a high pitch ringing or humming? This is something Hollywood actually gets right. The ringing is called Tinnitus. In real life, it doesn’t take a large explosion for this ringing to occur. This is commonly experienced after a night of loud music at a club or concert, a day at the range with no or inadequate hearing protection, exposure to moderately loud noise for a prolonged period of time, or exposure to very loud impulse noise (such as a gunshot). It can be temporary in some cases, and permanent in others. It is quite often a permanent condition for those who suffer from noise induced hearing loss. Sadly there is no proven cure for Tinnitus.
While we cannot currently cure any of the issues we’ve discussed in this article, there are ways to prevent them from happening. No one is expected to give up shooting, I know I won’t. However, we can protect ourselves from the damaging effects of the harmful noise levels by wearing adequate hearing protection. If you treat your ears right and protect them, you will decrease your risk of permanent hearing loss significantly! Hearing protection is much cheaper than hearing loss and hearing aids. Though, if you are already suffering from any of the symptoms discussed in this article, you may want to have your hearing tested by a qualified professional. In many cases this service is free, contact us for referrals in your area! If you don’t have any of these symptoms, GREAT, just do your ears a favor and get some custom protection made!