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Protect Your Hearing During Hunting Season

With the breeze freshening and the leaves falling, its that time again time to remind those who enjoy shooting sports to cover your ears, whether hunting upland game in Maryland or big game in Alaska. This especially includes persons who have an existing hearing loss and wear hearing aids protect what you have left.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation Recommends Ear Protection

The hearing health community recognizes the dangers shooting sports can present to those involved, as do many in the shooting industry. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a recreational advocacy group, located in Newtown, Connecticut, publishes a guide to hunting safety.

Of particular interest to Healthy Hearing readers is Rule #7: ALWAYS WEAR EYE AND EAR PROTECTION WHEN SHOOTING.

The NSSF takes a pro-active stance toward hearing protection for all of those who participate in recreational shooting sports hunting, skeet and trap shooting, target shooting all of these activities can cause serious, permanent hearing loss in a very short time if hearing isnt protected with various sound blocking devices.

And once that hearing is gone, its gone for good.

Recreational Noise Exposure

We recognize the dangers to hearing created in noisy workplaces factories, primarily. And, for the most part, workers and their employers take steps to protect hearing in the work environment.

Problem is these cautious, prudent workers who protect their ears from loud noise at work then spend the weekend hunting, using a circular saw, cruising on a hog or some other LOUD activity. Why the discrepancyr

Well first of all, many companies with excessive industrial noise are monitored by the government to ensure they are protecting their employees hearing. Second, we dont tend to think of fun as dangerous. Work, yes can be very dangerous, but fun stuff is just that all in fun. So, the idea of wearing hearing protection while engaged in recreational shooting sports sometimes gets lost on some participants who dont realize that loud fun is also dangerous fun that requires specific protection.

Effects of Firearm Noise on Hearing

According to Michael Stewart, Ph.D., professor of Audiology at Central Michigan University and Chair of the National Hearing Conservations Prevention of Noise Induced Hearing Loss from Firearm Exposure Committee, the loudness of firearm noise ranges from 140 to over170 dB SPL and is dependent upon the type of gun being shot, length of barrel, size of bore, muzzle break, acoustic environment and amount of gun powder.

No matter the guns specs, firearm noise is dangerously loud and it only takes one exposure to an unprotected ear to do some damage. The following are effects firearm noise can have on hearing:

  • Temporary or permanent hearing loss in one or both ears gunblast ear is often worse (if you are a right-handed shooter, it would be your unshielded left ear)
  • Hearing loss may occur gradually, suddenly or both
  • Ringing in ears, also known as tinnitus may or may not be permanent
  • High frequency hearing loss ability to hear sounds such as consonants is reduced and is often not noticed initially

No matter how many times hunters are exposed during an outing, they are putting their hearing at risk by not wearing ear protection.

Persons with Hearing Loss and Hunting

Many shooting sports enthusiasts already have hearing impairment, which can pose safety concerns while hunting if they are unable to hear their surroundings. However, many of these shooters also want to utilize every advantage, which includes improved hearing with the use of their hearing aids. So for hearing aid users the question is often safety for me or safety for my hearingr Well perhaps there doesnt need to be a choice.

Hearing aids and safety

As previously discussed, firearm noise is extremely dangerous for our hearing and all hunters should wear ear protection. The concept of protection is even more important for persons with hearing loss to protect the hearing they have left and to prevent further damage.

So how does one with hearing loss accomplish both safety and protection while huntingr It is a simple answer wear your hearing aids. But wait, hearing aids amplify sound so how would they protect against extremely loud gunfirer Wouldnt hearing aids make the gunfire even louderr

Great question. As Dr. Stewart explains sound levels from firearms ranges from 140 to over 170 dB SPL and are so excessively loud that they exceed the output capabilities of most hearing aids. The average hearing aid is capable of producing sound outputs around 120 dB SPL, thus firearm noise exceeds the limits a hearing aid can amplify. In fact most hearing aids are programmed by the hearing care professional to reduce the amplification of loud sounds above 100 dB SPL to provide comfort as well as to protect the wearer from further hearing damage.

Although this sounds so simple it is important to note this solution is not going to work for every hearing aid wearer. For example persons wearing open fitting behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids will not be protected because their ear canal is not sealed by an earmold.

The effectiveness of a hearing aid to provide protection from firearm noise damage is heavily dependent upon the fit of the hearing aid. It is important the hearing aid has a snug fit to reduce the likelihood of sound entering the ear. If the hearing aid or earmold has any sort of vent, Dr. Stewart recommends for further protection to temporarily plug this vent while hunting. Discuss this with your hearing care professional, they will be able to assist you with this.

Maximum Protection

Not only is Dr. Stewart heavily involved with researching the effects of firearm noise exposure on our hearing, he is also a shooting sports enthusiast himself who has witnessed first hand among his patients and friends how dangerous firearm noise can be. Although a person is protected at the minimal level with hearing aids, I recommend to my shooting sport hearing aid patients to consider purchasing an extra set of hearing aids for hunting and shooting sports. More specifically I recommend BTE hearing aids, with a tight fitting silicone mold with no vent. Not only will this type of fitting provide the amplification they need for their hearing loss, it will provide the maximum protection to prevent further hearing loss due to noise exposure.

Because everyday hearing aids are already an investment, Dr. Stewart recommends purchasing basic or lower cost digital hearing aids for this purchase. Most hearing aid manufacturers have a value BTE line which still provides adequate amplification, but simply without all the fancy bells and whistles.

Bottom Liner Protect What You Got.

Why hunters, or anyone for that matter, would risk further damage to their sensitive hearing mechanisms remains a mystery. The fact is, it only takes one round with unprotected ears to do permanent damage.

And continued exposure say a couple of rounds of skeet each week will simply add wear and tear to a system thats already malfunctioning.

So, the key is simple. Protect the natural hearing you already have. If youve experienced hearing loss from shooting sports, workplace noise, disease or trauma thats all the more reason to protect yourself. If you wear hearing aids, discuss with your hearing care professional if your hearing aids will provide adequate protection. The price of a second pair of hunting hearing aids is priceless when compared to the price of losing more of your hearing.

If you are a shooter that does not wear hearing aids, the best recommendation is to have your hearing tested. Obtain a baseline measurement and discuss hearing protection options with your hearing care professional.

The ability to hear is a quality of life issue and for those who enjoy shooting sports, so is the ability to engage in their favorite pastime. However, each shooter must take responsibility for protecting his or her hearing especially in cases where hearing loss is already present.

So enjoy your hobby. Dont let your hearing be part of the one that got away story after a long weekend of hunting.

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