Hunters and Hearing Loss

Hunters and Hearing Loss

In hearing health by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Hunting is a sport that combines knowledge, patience, and skill. However, hunting can also severely damage your hearing if you aren’t properly prepared. Firearms create bursts of sound that instantly cause hearing damage and hearing loss is a common problem for those who use guns for work or recreation.

The potential for noise-related hearing loss needs to be taken into account when you engage with any loud activity. It is important to recognize that noise-related hearing damage is permanent and accrues through our lifetime, gradually worsening our ability to hear. Signals like tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, are warning signs that damage to our hearing has occurred, but the damage remains even if the tinnitus fades.

Understanding Noise-Related Hearing Loss

Permanent hearing loss is often due to factors that injure the tiny sensory cells in our inner ear. “Hair cells” line the walls of the ear’s cochlea and are attuned to pick up sound wave vibrations in the air. These cells have the important job of detecting sound and transmitting it to the brain where it is interpreted.

We are born with thousands of hair cells, but this is our lifetime supply. If hair cells are injured, they don’t have a way of repairing or replacing themselves, so they fall out of commission permanently. The more hair cells we lose throughout our life, the harder it becomes to hear. When a significant number of hair cells are lost the acuteness and accuracy of our hearing are diminished – this is hearing loss.

In order to respond to sound waves and pick up a wide range of sounds, hair cells are naturally very delicate. While this trait makes them responsive to subtle and soft noises, it also makes them vulnerable to damage from very loud noise. Think of loud sounds like a storm for your inner ear. Loud noise stresses your hair cells and can push them past the breaking point. Like a storm, the stronger it hits, the quicker it does damage.

Safe Sound Levels

Sound levels are measured in a unit called “decibels” abbreviated as “dB”. At the base of the decibel scale, 0 dB represents the softest sound detectable by the human ear. Our hearing is undamaged by sounds ranging up to 75 dB, about the noise level of a vacuum cleaner. Above 75 dB we need to start being concerned about our exposure time to loud noise, as noises above this threshold can permanently injure our hearing.

At 85 dB, about the sound of a factory floor, hearing damage can occur with 8 hours of exposure. At 95 dB, around the volume of a riding mower, sound exposure is only safe for an hour. The volume of live rock concerts, about 105 dB is safe for less than 10 minutes if you are not wearing hearing protection. Another important threshold is 120 dB – this volume of sound (and above) causes instant permanent damage to hearing. At 140 dB sound not only causes instant damage but physical pain as well.

Here’s the bad news: gunshot noise levels are at or above the 120 dB threshold. This means that there is no “safe” exposure time to these sounds, they instantly cause permanent hearing losses. Higher caliber firearms, as a general rule, are even louder than smaller caliber firearms, but all cause damage to unprotected hearing.

Shooter’s Ear

Hearing loss from gunfire is common enough that there is a condition known as Shooter’s Ear, where hearing loss is asymmetrical, with the shoulder of the dominant arm blocking some of the blast noise, while the opposite ear takes full damage. Along with all hearing loss, shooter’s ear can have a significant impact on your quality of life if left unaddressed.

Gun owners and users need to be aware that some firearms generate noise so loud it holds the potential to damage hearing even when wearing protective equipment. Minimize use of very loud firearms, and always protect your hearing to reduce exposure.

Protect Your Hearing
If hunting is part of your life, then your hearing is of utmost importance! Investing in proper hearing protection will diminish your noise exposure. Digitally balanced earmuffs are calibrated to allow you to hear soft and subtle noises around you but then to protectively muffle very loud noises, like shots. Don’t overlook taking care of your hearing health next time you are hunting.

If you are concerned about your hearing abilities, we’re here to help. Contact us today to schedule your annual hearing test and monitor your hearing abilities!