Hearing protection is a topic that is near and dear to my skull. I have a permanently broken left ear drum; the hole in it is so big that even after surgery it could not be repaired. For most of my life I have lived with about 80-90% hearing loss on one side. Out in public, depending on ambient noise frequencies I may have to read lips, or get someone to yell at me especially if they are soft spoken. Since I am already mostly deaf on one side, you would think that I don’t need hearing protection there—but the ringing (tinnitus) in my bad ear begs to differ. Using hearing protection such as earplugs, earmuffs or suppressors can help prevent this damage and protect your hearing.
There are generally four levels of hearing damage:
- Mild Hearing Loss: difficulty hearing soft sounds, particularly in noisy environments.
- Moderate Hearing Loss: difficulty hearing both soft and moderately loud sounds.
- Severe Hearing Loss: difficulty hearing most sounds, including speech.
- Profound Hearing Loss: near-total or total inability to hear any sounds.
The decibel levels associated with hearing damage depend on the duration of exposure. Here are some examples:
- 85 dB: Prolonged exposure to noise at this level can cause hearing damage. Examples include heavy traffic, a lawnmower, headphones.
- 100 dB: Exposure to noise at this level for more than 15 minutes can cause hearing damage. Examples include a chainsaw, concert, and a loud sporting event like Nascar, Monster Jam, or football game.
- 120 dB: Exposure to noise at this level for even a short time can cause hearing damage. Examples include a jet engine, a thunderclap, and a sonic .22.
- 140 dB: Exposure to noise at this level can cause immediate and permanent hearing damage. Examples include a fireworks explosion, a gunshot blast, and a jet engine at full throttle.
Out of Service
In the United States, approximately 15% of adults aged 18 years or older report some trouble hearing, and this percentage increases with age. Additionally, an estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6-19 years have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise. And the thing about the ability to hear is that once it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s no healing it.
According to a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are the two most common service-connected disabilities among veterans with over 2.7 million veterans receiving disability compensation for hearing loss and tinnitus in 2020.
The data on first responders is a bit more mixed. One study published in the International Journal of Audiology found that 23% of police officers interviewed reported hearing difficulties, with high-frequency hearing loss being the most common type. Another study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that first responders had significantly higher rates of hearing loss compared to non-first-responder workers.
What to Do
Ear plugs: Can come in many different forms and are generally the cheapest solution for hearing protection. Simple foam plugs are a dime a dozen, and they should be required gear for lawn mowing and other loud activities. A warning: Apple Air Buds in your ear are NOT a substitute for hearing protection. The hard plastic exterior does not seal your ear from external sounds.
A step up from basic foam ear plugs are moldable versions that can run the gamut from a D.I.Y. kit all the way to professionally made, like musicians use. The great thing about moldable units is that they exactly fit and seal your ear. The other bonus is that they are some of the most comfortable units that you can use. You can even get a hybrid moldable headphone unit from companies like www.decibullz.com.
Then we have the earmuffs. While they do help protect your hearing, they do it with the drawback of being big and bulky. Even slim-line versions can make it difficult to get a proper cheek weld while shooting rifles. Then during recoil the ear muffs can unseal and move on you. One tip for shooters who may be noise shy like new shooters or children: Think about doubling up, ear foamies plus ear muffs to keep the noise down to mouse-fart levels.
I am going to put electronic hearing protection in its own category. Unfortunately the bulkiness is the same as plain old earmuffs. But once you go electronic you will never want to go back. I know plenty of deaf hunters who refuse to wear hearing protection because they want to hear the game they are hunting. Well electronic muffs actually enhance your hearing and allow you to hear better than you normally can. Then will instantly shut off during loud noises like the gunshot. The best of both worlds. Even name brand Walker’s Razor Slims can be had for around $40. I personally have multiple sets that I stash in all the vehicles and range bags.
While electronic earmuffs are great…they are so passé for those of us that are tacticool. Where the earmuffs can get in the way of rifle shooting and make your ears sweat in the heat and humidity of the summer. In-ear electronic hearing protection gives you the hearing enhancement and the protection without the bulk. The drawback is that you’re looking at around $100 for a set.
Yes, suppressors are a form of hearing protection. Even though rounds like a .223/5.56 will break the sound barrier, a suppressor will move the sound further away from the shooter’s ear. For pistols SilencerCo manufactures the world’s first fully integrated suppressed handgun. Unfortunately these are still a niche product. JKArmament is taking a different approach by manufacturing a separate suppressor that is small enough to be feasibly concealed while mounted on a pistol. The CCX 9mm suppressor is not big enough to bring normal 9mm rounds down to safe hearing levels, but it takes the sting off for sure. Combine with sub sonic ammo and its performance is even better.
Hearing protection is crucial for maintaining healthy hearing and preventing hearing loss. As hunters we need to get past the stigma of hearing protection as not manly, and hearing loss as a rite of passage. Exposure to loud noise, whether at work, in recreational activities, or in everyday life, can cause permanent damage to the ears. Take it from someone who misses conversations, and has to read lips to interpret what others are saying. Skipping your hearing pro is just not worth it.
Tinnitus Temporary Fix
That annoying ringing in your ears is, quite possibly, worse than hearing loss. There’s not much to be done about it medically. However, there is a temporary fix that should offer you a few hours’ relief. Take each hand and place your palms over each ear, with your fingers oriented towards the back of your head. With your fingers, locate the part of your skull that joins to your neck. There’s a small depression in the middle, right at the base of your skull. Now drum your fingers for about a minute and enjoy the little drumline in your head. When you stop, the ringing should, too, if only for a while.
James the “XDMAN” Nicholas Mr. UnPewFessional Himself
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