The two types of noise exposure are (1) steady-state noise from machines, manufacturing, music, transportation (trains, planes, automobiles), loud equipment/tools, motorized vehicles, and other everyday noise, and (2) sudden blasts or impulse noise like firearms. Occupational noise exposure has been under management for the general industry by OSHA since the implementation of the Noise and Hearing Conservation Standard (1910.95) in 1983. All workers exposed to greater than 85 dBA averaged over an 8-hour day must be in a hearing conservation program to prevent noise-induced loss from the workplace. Although working in industry is presumed to be a major cause of hearing loss, non-occupational exposures are perhaps more dangerous because the use of hearing protection is not regulated or often considered outside the workplace.
Firearms present the most dramatic potential for traumatic hearing loss. The energy created by shooting a box of 12-gauge shells has been estimated the equivalent of a full year of 8-hour days of exposure at work in 85 dBA. Hearing protection has become commonplace at ranges and club events, in fact, it is now often required to participate. It is reassuring to now see young trap/skeet shooters religiously wearing protection. Unfortunately, using hearing protection during hunting prevents normal conversation with hunting partners, thus, hearing protection is seldom worn during hunting or other recreational activities. At the end of the hunt, ears are ringing, hearing is diminished, and talking in loud voices is proof of the trauma. Although much of the hearing loss is temporary, recovering within 16 to 20 hours, some degree of residual permanent loss occurs with each downed bird or animal.
The good news is that there are new technologies available to protect hearing and simultaneously enable hearing others in proximity. Two varieties of shooting protectors, electronic and passive, are now readily available to overcome the isolation from the conversation and provide adequate hearing protection.
Electronically controlled protectors will amplify speech and game sounds, like a hearing aid, and instantaneously shut down the impulse noise from gunshots. These are available in earmuffs, ready-fit inserts, and custom-fitted earpieces. Pricing varies according to features and product capabilities. It is important to have a reliable “seal” to prevent the gun blast from penetrating into the ear canal. Without a seal creating the hearing protection value, the electronics are useless. The “attack” time (shut down) of the electronics must be fast enough to prevent the blast from entering the ear via the amplification system, if not, the user gets“double jeopardy” from the amplification. Less than ½ millisecond attack time is desirable. Bluetooth capabilities are also found in some products, although, phone calls or listening to music should be considered as a possible distraction for safety. Power sources are either hearing aid batteries, which are inexpensive and easily available, or rechargeable options. The downside to rechargeable units is the failure to plug them in before using them. The downside to hearing aid battery units is failure to remove the battery at the end of the hunting season is probable damage due to corrosion. Prices for electronic units run from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The old adage, you probably get what you pay for, applies to this category.
Passive protectors damp the background noise like any inserted hearing protector. They control the gunshot blast with an “impulse filter” implanted in the earmuff, ready fit, or custom earset. The filters allow normal background noise and speech to pass through the filter and significantly reduce the gunshot impulse noise when it occurs. It should be noted that the passive device does reduce both background noise and speech, therefore, the conversation will only be heard at a closer range, other sounds are “muted” and distance from either may result in missing desired sounds. The same “seal” principle applies to the passive filters as with the electronics; you must have a good seal in the ear canal, or the filter capabilities are useless. Custom fitted earsets are a more consistent option to achieve the ear seal. Universal earsets employ either a flanged plug (usually in 3 sizes) or an expanding foam tip and placement is critical to get a seal. Prices vary from a few dollars for universal units to a few hundred for custom-fitted options. The old adage, you probably get what you pay for, also applies to this category.
The bottom line is that shooting firearms without adequate protection is hazardous to hearing and the more you shoot, the greater the risk for hearing loss. It is so difficult to convince people of the heartbreaking effect of hearing loss. Hearing loss can lead to the inability to hear a loved one, (like a grandchild) or a warning signal. It can lead to being passed up for a promotion, having fun poked at you by friends, and losing self-esteem.
At WildEar we want to make a difference for you – protect and preserve. Check out our full line of products for hunting and shooting.