means colored leaves, cooler temperatures, football games, hunting
season and the smell of burning gunpowder. With hunting season fast
upon us, taking a few extra safety precautions in the field or on
the shooting range may pay big dividends later in life. Eye and ear
injuries are always an unfortunate possibility when dealing with ammunition
Keys to becoming a skilled hunter are good vision and hearing. A hunter
must be able to spot game and hear sounds of approaching hunters and
wildlife. In the past, hearing protection was not always recommended
because of the role that listening plays in anticipating the approach
of game. Now, however, it should be mandatory.
Eye protection is important for the hunter to consider, beyond exposure
to airborne bits of unburned powder or debris flying from the actions
of the guns. Hunting in thick cover adds the risk of eye injury from
shotgun pellet ricochet as well as the risks from overhanging branches
and limbs. Trap or skeet shooters know well the need for eye protection
while on the stand. This practice should routinely be extended to
hunters in the field. For hunters or shooters who participate in ammunition
reloading, eye protection is a must.
Hunting is a sport in which hearing is particularly critical, but
hunting without hearing protection could instantly damage your hearing.
Sound pressure is a direct physical measure of sound intensity and
is measured in decibels (dB) of sound pressure level (SPL). An increase
of 6 dB SPL is actually a doubling of sound intensity. Therefore,
a rifle shot of 146 dB SPL is actually twice as loud as 140 dB SPL.
We know that continued exposure to noises above a level of 85 dB eventually
affects a person’s hearing.
Noise levels above 140 dB can cause hearing loss after just one exposure.
Most firearms range from 140 to 170 dB, loud enough to damage your
hearing instantly. Because a single gunshot is so intense, it is always
above safe noise levels. Guns with short barrels or ported barrels,
designed to lessen recoil, increase the noise associated with each
shot. Complaints of diminished hearing and a sensation of muffled
hearing or ringing in the ears after noise exposure are indicators
of damage due to excessive noise.
There are only two kinds of shooters in the world, those who wear
effective hearing protection and those who have or will eventually
suffer serious hearing loss. Over half of all shooters and hunters
have hearing loss.
A study by researchers at Central Michigan University and Wayne State
University revealed that half of the hunters surveyed suffered tinnitus
- a constant ringing in the ears. Tinnitus is often a sign of noise-induced
hearing loss. Thirty-four percent of hunters report having difficulty
with conversational speech as well as hearing in other social activities.
A Wisconsin study in April, 2000, revealed that thirty-eight percent
of target shooters and five percent of hunters never wore hearing
protection over a year’s time. There is an absolute relationship
between gunfire and hearing loss. A lifetime of shooting almost always
leads to some hearing loss, although genetic predisposition may make
it more severe in some individuals and less severe in others. The
damage from exposure to gunfire is cumulative over time. Chances are
excellent that shooters will eventually have difficulty understanding
The simplest way to protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss
and tinnitus is to wear hearing protectors which come in various shapes,
sizes and types. These include ear plugs, ear muffs and electronic
hearing protection devices (EHPD). Electronic devices are available
in "ear muff" styles or traditional "hearing aid"
These devices limit noise exposure using sound compression technology
that limits the peak intensity of loud noises presented to the ears,
while also having the ability to amplify other desirable sounds in
the hunting environment. When worn correctly, hearing protection can
decrease your risk of serious injury and lifelong complications to
your hearing. In addition, when hearing protection is worn while shooting,
your concentration level increases and flinching decreases, enabling
you to shoot more accurately.
The various types of hearing protection devices available are usually
sold with a noise reduction rating (NRR) to provide an indication
of their effectiveness. Ear muffs will provide 23 dB of protection,
while combining them with foam ear plugs will yield approximately
29 dB of protection. Custom-made ear plugs have some advantages.
These products are molded from an impression taken directly from your
ears. Because ears are unique, just like fingerprints, custom hearing
protectors are the only way to make sure that perfect fit and optimum
effectiveness are obtained. These custom ear plugs will provide a
decibel reduction of approximately 25 dB, may be more comfortable
than the ear muffs and are more convenient in the field.
Any ear plug worn for an extended period of time may cause some irritation
to the ear canals, but most hunters and shooters generally adjust
to this over a short period of time. The NRR of EHPD’s range
from approximately 24-29 dB. Be aware that ear plugs with "hearing
valves" may offer as little as 6 dB of noise reduction and are
not as effective as solid plugs. However, any form of hearing protection
is better than none at all.
If you are hunting or enjoying the shooting sports with your children,
remember that their ears should also be protected from sounds that
may harm their hearing. Parents can teach their children from the
beginning how to protect themselves from damaging sounds.
Participating in the hunting and shooting sports does not have to
be harmful to the ears if the right protection is worn. If you are
one of the thousands of hunters heading to the woods this Fall, add
one more item of equipment to your list - hearing protection. See
Mark Whitlock at Mark’s Outdoor Sports for a selection of ear
plugs and ear muffs designed for shooters. You can see a hearing healthcare
professional or our audiologist at Brookwood ENT Associates if you
need custom-fitted ear plugs from Westone or an electronic hearing
protection device. We recommend Soundscopes from the Starkey Hearing
Pay attention to your hearing before you fire another round. Good
hearing and good hunting!
You can reach Dr, Goodson at Brookwood ENT 205-877-2827.