How to Protect Your Hearing When Shooting

When you shoot guns in any situation, whether for your job, during hunting, or recreationally such as at a shooting range, you need to protect your hearing.

Despite the importance and the risks to your hearing from guns, protecting yourself in this way is something many people fail to do.

Below, we go into what you need to know to keep your hearing health protected when you’re shooting, no matter the environment.

The Effects of a Gunshot On Your Ears

When you shoot a gun, even just once, it creates a loud sound burst. That then causes what’s called concussive energy, which moves down your eardrum, rattling it along the way. The rattle affects the tiny bones in your inner ear and your cochlea. Your cochlea is shaped like a snail, and it’s a fluid-filled organ with thousands of tiny hair-like structures.

The cochlea converts sound that is around you into electrical impulses so your brain can understand them.

After you go shooting, you may notice that it feels like your ears are stuffy, and you can’t hear as well.

That’s known as a temporary threshold shift. The more you expose your ears to gunshots or similar loud noises, the more likely it is that what you initially experienced as temporary becomes permanent.

Even one blast from a gunshot can cause permanent damage, which is why you should always wear hearing protection no matter what.

What is Shooter’s Ear?

Some hearing specialists and audiologists use the term—shooter’s ear. It can become apparent when a patient has been frequently involved with firearms, such as from being in the military or because they’re a hobbyist. They often have symptoms of hearing loss that fall into a particular pattern.

For example, their hearing loss is predominantly in the ear opposite the one they hold the gun up to. The reason is that the arm and shoulder used for shooting provide some protection to the ear. 

How Can You Protect Your Hearing?

Much of the noise-induced hearing loss we experience in our lives is preventable.

Whenever you’re in a loud environment, you should be protecting your ears. Protecting your ears when you’re shooting is like wearing vision protection—it’s a necessity.

However, even with protection, if you’re regularly exposed to gunshots, you may later experience hearing loss. The protection will reduce the severity.

Choosing Proper Protection

The type of ear protection you should use when shooting depends on the specific activity you’re doing.

The general types of protection include foam earplugs, passive earmuffs, and electronic earmuffs. Foam earplugs are cheap and have a high noise reduction rating. Passive earmuffs create a barrier that shields your ears from sounds.

Electronic earmuffs will be mentioned more below, but they are a way to continue to hear surrounding sounds at normal levels. When a sound over a certain level is detected, the circuitry in these earmuffs compresses it until the noise returns to a safe level.

If you’re in a range, you have to be aware of the fact that the gunfire is more rapid and is happening at a continuous pace. If the gun range is indoors, then the sounds are also more concentrated.

With those factors in mind, you should wear foam earplugs, but also earmuffs on top of those. You can find specialty earmuffs online or at a sporting goods store, and you can buy foam earplugs at a drugstore.

You want to make sure they fit well and feel comfortable, so you’re okay with leaving them on potentially for extended periods.

If you’re a hunter, you have a different consideration to keep in mind when choosing ear protection. You need to be especially aware of what’s happening around you when hunting. With that in mind, you don’t necessarily want ear protection that will block sound completely.

Instead, a good choice for hunters is electronic hearing protection. It’s a special type of equipment that suppresses the gunfire just once the trigger is pulled.

If you’re a skeet shooter, you should avoid earmuffs because that will make it hard to find your target. Instead, custom earplugs can be a good choice for you.

The big takeaway with all of this is that firing guns can be a hazardous thing to do when it comes to your hearing and ear health. We tend to not think about our hearing health until it’s too late, and at which point damage is irreversible. If you’re proactive, you can avoid this damage and retain your hearing even while doing things you love.

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