Firearm Owners United – Daniel Kuhl | You’re not tough for foregoing hearing protections
Introduction to hearing damage
The ability to hear sounds is an important one and contributes to shaping our perception of the world around us, however everyone is susceptible to the reality that is hearing loss and hearing damage. Hearing loss or hearing damage, also known in degrees of deafness, is a partial to total inability to hear (1). The Australian Government Department of Health reports that approximately 3.6 million Australians suffer from a form of hearing loss, 1.3 million Australians currently are living with a preventable hearing condition and that hearing loss that is left untreated has potential to increase the risk of both memory loss and depression (2). This can be caused via long term exposure to loud noises or it can be from just a single exposure to a really loud noise, it does not even have to be painful to do damage, and hearing damage due to noise accumulates over time and does not heal. Sound level is measured in decibels and it is believed that exposure to sounds less than 75 decibels should not cause hearing loss, however constant exposure to sounds at or above 85 will highly be likely to cause hearing damage (3). To put this into context, normally people converse at around 60 decibels and you won’t feel pain, washing machines are typically give off near 70 decibels of noise and this will cause irritation, a typical petrol lawnmower will run around 80-85 decibels and will usually cause damage after 2 hours of exposure, and sirens will be approximately 120 decibels and will cause pain and ear injury (4). Remember these numbers.
What this leads to
Long term loss of hearing
The exposure to loud noises over a long duration of time will lead to a gradual loss of hearing, meaning sounds will have distortion and be muffled, and lead to understanding people in conversation to become difficult (5).
Immediate loss of hearing
Some loud bursts of noise can cause sudden and immediate loss of hearing or permanent damage. This can happen with any given loud noise and should not be taken lightly.
The exposure to loud noises can lead to a temporary loss of hearing and this usually disappears, however long term residual damage can be done in the form of tinnitus. Tinnitus is usually described as a ringing in the ears, however there is no single sound, it can be a click, hiss, bell, low or high pitched ring, and it might be in a single ear or both. It is not a disease however a symptom of problems wrong with the ears, and in the context of shooters, hearing damage (6).
Shooters and exposure
The number of individuals in Australia who legally own firearms is difficult to determine, however according to a report there are approximately 816,000 (7). These are people who use firearms for a wide range of shooting related activities from target shooting using rifles, shotguns, and handguns, to hunting with rifles and shotguns. The decibel range for rifles from ~140 decibels to ~174 decibels, this is .22lr and upwards, handguns ~148-171 decibels, and shotguns are generally around 152-170 decibels (8). This means around 3.2% of Australia’s population purposefully expose themselves to noise that will absolutely cause hearing damage. The damage done to a shooters hearing is typically asymmetrical, with the ear opposite to the shouldered firearm having weaker test scores in audio testing, whilst this is contrary to what seems obvious, it is likely due to the dominant ear being protected by the buttstock of the firearm during the course of shooting (9). Despite the recognition that the bang from firearms causes hearing damage, a study of 1,538 shooters from the United States of America reported 38% of target shooters and 95% of hunters did not wear hearing protection once in the previous year (10).
Prevention and protection methods
Luckily for shooters there are a wide range of products that are able to mitigate some of the damage that is done by shooting, unluckily for shooters gunfire is so loud that a regular shooter will still likely fall prey to some hearing loss. Generally, there are inner ear and over ear Hearing Protective Devices (HPDs), and these come in multiple forms from cheap foam plugs that can be rolled up and inserted into the ear to electronic earmuffs that are designed to allow the user to hear normally until a loud noise is detected and then they shut off and work as a protectant. Whilst shooting outdoors it is best to use at least one of these forms of HPDs, tailoring to your sport and firearm, with indoor shooting it is recognised as best practice to use both inner ear and over ear HPDs for best results. Studies have shown that dual protection will provide the best protection (8) (11) (12).
Risking health to look tough
Anecdotally, through both working in the firearms industry in multiple facets and meeting and shooting with many shooters, I have met countless people who wholeheartedly believe they are too tough for hearing protection. I have noticed that these people are also constantly asking others to repeat themselves and are already suffering from the effects of hearing damage, whether they will admit to it or not. There are no points in losing your hearing, be sure to do as much as you are feasibly able to do to protect it and ensure those you are shooting with are protecting their hearing as well.
- Britannica, Editors of Encyclopaedia. Deafness. Encyclopaedia Britannica. [Online] 01 October 2018. [Cited: 11 December 2020.] https://www.britannica.com/science/deafness.
- Government, Australian. Ear Health. Australian Government Department of Health. [Online] [Cited: 11 December 2020.] https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/ear-health.
- National Acoustic Laboratories – Australian Department of Health. Know Your Noise. Hearing Health. [Online] [Cited: 11 December 2020.] https://knowyournoise.nal.gov.au/hearing-health.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Noises Cause Hearing Loss? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online] [Cited: 2020 December 11.] https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/what_noises_cause_hearing_loss.html#:~:text=Sound%20is%20measured%20in%20decibels,start%20to%20damage%20your%20hearing..
- —. How Does Loud Noise Cause Hearing Loss? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online] 24 November 2020. [Cited: 15 December 2020.] https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/how_does_loud_noise_cause_hearing_loss.html#:~:text=Loud%20noise%20can%20damage%20cells,after%20noise%20exposure%20has%20stopped..
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Tinnitus. National Institutes of Health. [Online] 6 March 2017. [Cited: 15 December 2020.] https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/tinnitus.
- Alpers, Philip and Picard, Michael. Australia: Number of Licensed Firearm Owners. GunPolicy. [Online] 15 November 2020. https://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/compareyears/10/number_of_licensed_firearm_owners.
- Prevention of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss from Recreational Firearms. Meinke, Deanna K, et al. 38, November 2017, Seminars in hearing, Vol. 4, pp. 267-281.
- Noise-induced hearing loss in shooters of shoulder firearms. Peck, James E and Rabinowitz, Peter. 6, 15 March 2001, American Family Physician, Vol. 63, p. 1053.
- Recreational firearm use and hearing loss. Nondahl, D M, et al. 4, April 2000, Arch Fam Med, Vol. 9, pp. 352-357.
- Stewart, Michael. Recreational Firearm Noise Exposre. American Speech Langauge Hearing Association. [Online] [Cited: 15 December 2020.] https://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Recreational-Firearm-Noise-Exposure/.
- Clason, Debbie. Shooter’s ear: Hearing loss caused by gunfire. Healthy Hearing. 21 October 2019.