Noise generated by firearms cause damage to the hearing of high-pitched sounds, while lower sounds are not affected. Thus, firearm users often tend to ignore their hearing difficulties, or they attribute their difficulty to hear conversational speech to background noise in the environment, or even to the mumbling of speakers.
Additionally, the often find that one ear is more affected than the other. This happens because more damage is usually done to the ear that is closer to the gun muzzle.
Finally, firearm users may experience a ringing or buzzing sound in their ears. This is one of the first signs of noise damage in the ears and a permanent hearing loss. Are firearms really so loud? YES!
To place this into perspective, consider the following noise levels (measured in dB level):
- a whisper – 30dB
- normal conversation – 55dB
- busy traffic – 70dB
- jackhammer – 130dB
Keep in mind that permanent hearing loss can occur from sounds louder than 85dB.
Against this framework, the mean intensity levels of rifles are 153dB, pistols 161dB and shotguns 155dB.
These facts make it clear that firearm users, whether they are hunters, hunting guides, recreational shooters, or members of shooting clubs, are in danger of noise damage.
Certain situations such as firing guns in an environment where sound can reverberate, or adding muzzle brakes or other modifications, may enhance the intensity of gunshots.
So – how can the ears be protected?
- If possible, reduce the number of shots fired
- Use firearms with longer barrel lengths
- Shoot smaller caliber/gauge firearms when possible
- Avoid shooting in groups and if possible, increase the distance between shooters
- Avoid the use of muzzle brakes
- Use low velocity ammunition when feasible
- Shoot outdoors or in a sound treated environment
- If possible, use a muzzle suppressor.