Americans like their guns. Some of this interestin guns derives from television programs and movies where cowboys, policemen and bad guys are wearing their guns with delight and regularly firing at each other. Regular encounters with these images is among many reasons that you will find so many American gun owners who very much enjoy firing them on hunts or at shooting ranges. The piece of information not fully communicated to these many gun users is that the individuals shooting guns on television and in motion pictures most likely wound up deaf, or suffering from severe hearing disabilities.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) accounts for a large percentage of hearing disabilities in today’s world. The harm done to hearing by loud sounds has two main types – damage caused by transient high noise levels, such as explosions or gunfire and damage caused by sustained high noise levels, such as heavy machinery sounds.

Noise levels are measured on the decibel scale. Zero decibels is total silence. A whisper is around 15 decibels. A normal conversation is around 50 to 60 decibels. Note that the decibel scale is a log scale. 50 decibels is twice as loud as 40, and 60 is four times as loud as 40 decibels. Extended exposure to noises in excess of 90 decibels can lead to permanent, NIHL within just a couple weeks. Hearing damage can also occur in a much shorter time (minutes) from encounters with much louder noise levels, for instance the 120 decibels at near a jet engine or rock concert. A typical gunshot has a volume of 140 decibels.

Irrespective of how they might feel about guns, there is one subject on which gun aficionados and hearing professionals concur – no one should be firing guns without wearing hearing protection. Picking out the proper ear protection depends on the type of shooting you plan to do.

For those who normally fire guns at ranges, the best hearing protection is the “muff” headphones which fit over the ear, because they keep the gunfire sounds from reaching not only your inner ears, but the cochlear bones behind them. The over-the-ear muff can be paired with foam ear plugs for added protection. Many range shooters will choose in-the-ear foam plugs with a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 30 or more to use with their muffs. At the high end of the price range you will also find electronic noise-cancelling headphones engineered especially for shooters, which are pricy but which will offer the highest levels of protection. Electronic noise-cancelling headphones offer the added benefit of allowing you to hear normal conversations while cancelling out the transient sounds of gunfire.

If you enjoy firing guns, before you next visit the firingrange, talk to your hearing care expert about ear protection. And always bear in mind, hearing protection won’t do you any good, at home, inside your bag, or hanging around your neck. You need to wear it at all times around the shooting range.

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