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Noise-Induced Hearing Loss From Shooting Sports

Audiologist 40 years as an occasional small game and bird hunter. Audiologist for 28 years at MMC 2 ½ years as manufacturer’s rep for Unitron Hearing aids Owner and partner in Family Hearing Care since March

What is NIHL?

Temporary or permanent hearing loss caused by exposure to intense or loud sounds determined by both the volume (intensity) and duration. Typically occurs in the high frequencies and is often preventable.

NIHL Signs and Symptoms

  • Can have actual pain but often times not.
  • Often has tinnitus or ringing, roaring, rushing, buzzing in the ears.
  • Difficulty understanding in noisy environments.
  • Turning the TV up.
  • Asking people to repeat things.
  • Feeling like people are mumbling.
  • Trouble understanding over the phone.

How Loud is LOUD?

The decibel scale is logarithmic. For every 6dB increase there is a doubling of sound pressure on the eardrum. If we go from 6 to 12 we’ve doubled. When we go from 12 to 18 we’ve doubled that and from 18 to 24 we’ve doubled that.

OSHA suggests sounds can be damaging if 85dB over and extended time.

The louder the sound, the less time it takes to do permanent damage:

  • 90dB for 8 hours
  • 115dB for 15 minutes
  • Humming of refrigerator 45dB
  • Human voice is about 60dB
  • Jet take off is about 120dB
  • Jackhammer is about 130dB
  • MP3 player at max volume 105-120dB
  • Pain is usually perceived around 130dB
  • Most gun shots average 150-160dB
  • .22 about 140dB
  • .38 about 153dB
  • 9mm about 160dB
  • .357 magnum about 164dB
  • .45 about 157dB
  • 12 gauge shotgun about 155dB
  • M-16 about 160dB

Shooting inside an enclosed environment where sound reverberates can make the sounds louder and the risk greater. Point out the road hunter when first started, deer and duck blinds. Higher risk with multiple shots like duck hunting, trap or skeet.

NIHL Statistics

26 million Americans have hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to noise at work or in leisure activities.

16% of teens ages 12-19 have reported some hearing loss that could have been caused by loud noise.

80-90% of hunters don’t use hearing protection

40% of target shooters don’t use hearing protection

80% of shooting sportsmen have some degree of hearing loss

Hearing loss is 4 times more common in hunters and shooters compared to the average population.

Hearing Protection For NIHL

Passive: Foam or rubber plugs – least costly. Helpful when used properly. Variety of styles and materials. Designed for 1 time use. Non electronic muffs typically $15-$40. Often more comfortable than earplugs but may interfere with glasses or shooting. Get highest NRR Noise Reduction Rating available(25dB or greater).

Custom made earplugs typically $100-$150. Made from ear impressions normally taken by an audiologist or hearing aid dealer to get best fit and most protection. Easy to insert and clean. Can be used in conjunction with ear muffs but does not double the amount of protection.

Electronic Protection

Sound wave phase cancellation coupled with sophisticated electronic compression for loud sounds while able to amplify speech and other non damaging softer sounds. Allows hunters to hear approaching game and then protect when shooting. Electronic earmuffs may cost $200-$600 and can be found in gun shops, catalogues, and on line. Custom made in the ear electronic devices are the most expensive but possibly the most comfortable and helpful when good hearing and protection are needed at the same time. They typical costs from $1000-$2000.

Hearing aids cost $1700-$6200/pair and are replaced in 5 years


  • http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/hearingProtection.cfm
  • http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/Noise-Induced-Hearing-Loss-in-Children.cfm
  • http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/news/releases/11/Pages/101211.aspx
  • http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/noise.aspx
  • http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/noise/
  • http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/857813-overview
  • http://www.betterhearing.org/hearing_loss_prevention/noise_induced_hearing_loss/index.cfm
  • http://nohrfoundation.org/prevention
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