Man putting in ear plugs.

Hunting Ear Plugs Help Protect Hearing While Allowing Music and Normal Sounds to Be Heard

Reviewed by Dr. Porter on March 24, 2023

A single gunshot fired from your own gun or a gun a few feet from your ears can cause permanent hearing loss. That is why it is recommended that hunters and recreational shooters use hearing protection every time they fire their guns.

Just how loud is a gunshot?

Recreational firearms produce noise with intensity as high as 154 to 164 decibels while shotguns can be 170 decibels. To put that into perspective, a jet engine is approximately 150 decibels, fireworks are 160 decibels, a rocket launch is 180 decibels, and they are farther from your ear when you experience them.

The explosive sound of firing a gun while it only lasts only three to five milliseconds, is enough to damage your hearing. Short-term damage to hearing after multiple gunshots is common, but permanent hearing damage can result from just a single incident.

Some people have a greater risk of hearing loss than others

Children: Children have a greater risk of hearing loss than middle-aged people and seniors. The inner ear, even in infants, is fully formed, but connections from the ears to the brain take years to develop. Loud sounds interrupt the maturation of the ear-brain connection.

Tobacco users: Also at increased risk are smokers and snuff users, who are about 30 percent more likely to suffer hearing loss after gunshot noises than people who do not smoke and do not use smokeless tobacco. The problem is with tobacco, not tobacco smoke.

Medications and drugs: People on certain ototoxic drugs suffer more hearing loss than those who are not. These drugs include aspirin (including baby aspirin), Tylenol, Ibuprofen, loop diuretics for excessive fluid and high blood pressure, and two classes of antibiotics, aminoglycosides (such as gentamicin and kanamycin) and macrolides (such as Zithromax and erythromycin). When taking any of these drugs, you must wear hearing protection when you shoot. If you do not know whether a medication increases the risk of hearing loss, it is only prudent to assume it does.

Lack of hearing protection: Not wearing ear protection is an even bigger risk for hearing loss from loud shooting sounds. Not using earplugs or sound-blocking headphones increases the risk of hearing loss by 60 percent.

You can acquire hearing loss while hunting, or enjoying shooting sports, without knowing it. This kind of trauma to the fine hairs in the middle ear first takes away your ability to hear higher pitches. While we all lose some of our ability to hear high-frequency sounds as we age but shooting without hearing protection will only speed up the process. You do not always notice it as it is happening, and by the time you start having difficulties understanding conversations or enjoying music, hearing aids may be necessary. So, avoid this situation by wearing earplugs!

Ear Plugs Can Save Your Hearing

There is a lot of protective gear people do not like. Respirators can be hot and stuffy. Protective suits are even worse. Goggles are never fashionable, and the straps can make creases on your face. But ear plugs provide hearing protection with a minimum of inconvenience or discomfort. And they only cost a few cents each.

Ear plugs have been around for an exceptionally long time. About 2800 years ago, the Greek poet Homer described how Odysseus ordered his sailors to stuff their ears with wax so siren songs to their deaths would not lure them. Until about 100 years ago, earplugs were still made of wax. Since 1972, however, modern ear plugs have been made of memory foam (polyurethane) to form a tight fit in the outer ear canal that almost anyone can use for hearing protection.

It is easy to use memory foam earplugs. Just roll them into a tight cylinder, stick them into your ear, and they will expand to fill your ear canal. It takes 20 to 30 seconds to get a good seal in your ear. You need to insert the earplug to an appropriate depth in your ear, not too deep and not hanging out of your ear, but your audiologist can show you the proper technique at your regularly scheduled hearing exam.

While memory foam earplugs can help in cutting down the decibel level many find it difficult to get a complete seal thereby exposing themselves to hearing loss even while wearing hearing protection. The best solution for those who are in noisy environments on a regular basis, such as at a shooting range or hunting, we recommend custom ear plugs. These are molded to your ear shape for the maximum hearing protection benefit. There are many different options available including small in-the-canal ear plugs or full shell (filling up the entire ear canal) for maximum hearing protection. They are also available with digital suppression of loud noises while still letting ambient sounds in such as talking, keeping you safe while protecting your hearing. 

How much of a difference does using earplugs make? If you go shooting as often as once a month wearing hearing protection you are 38 percent less likely to develop hearing loss due to acoustic trauma over your lifetime. You are also less likely to develop lesser degrees of hearing loss that drive you to social isolation and limit your progress in your career and your enjoyment of life.

Your audiologist at Harbor Audiology can advise you on the best kinds of hearing protection for hearing safety when you hunt or participate in shooting sports. They can also help you with the types of hearing protection you need for safety on the job and better sleep at night. Make an appointment today at any of our 6 locations, to see what solution works best for you!

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