Preventing Tinnitus and Hearing Loss Related to Firearms

Tinnitus and hearing loss related to firearms

Hearing is one of your five basic senses. You may not think about it much, but hearing is actually a complex process, and hearing loss can be detrimental. 

First, sound waves enter your ear and travel down the ear canal to your eardrum. Then the eardrum vibrates several small bones in your ear, and these vibrations translate to the fluid of a tiny, snail-shaped part of the inner ear called the cochlea. Afterwards, the signal from the cochlea is passed through sensory hair cells in your inner ear to your auditory nerve, and finally the brain.

Essentially, this is a very intricate process. It’s also a sensitive one. As a user of firearms, you could be at risk for potential hearing damage or loss, or even a condition called tinnitus.

How does a firearm affect my ears?

A recent study by Reuters found that only around 59% of U.S. gun users wore some form of hearing protection while shooting. Whether your preferred location for shooting is in the woods or at the range, odds are you are surrounded by sounds from not only your gun, but others’ guns as well. All that noise can build up to affect your hearing.

Whenever a gun goes off, it creates a sound wave that rattles those tiny bones and organs in your ear. The rattling creates pressure that is a lot for the ear to handle, so it goes into shock, causing temporary hearing loss. This is why things may sound muffled after you’ve been shooting. If you’ve ever experienced this sensation, you know it usually goes away after a while. But without proper protection over time, hearing loss can become more permanent.

Experts say that prolonged exposure to sounds over 85 decibels (dB, or the unit sounds are measured in) can cause hearing loss. Different firearms can create sounds from 140-175 dB. For reference, using a lawn mower in your yard is only 90 dB.

Tinnitus and Shooter’s Ear

Tinnitus is defined as a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears. It is a condition that is subjective, meaning it varies from person to person and no one can hear the sounds but the person experiencing it. In some people, the ringing might be loud and persistent, while in others it could be softer and more periodic. Some cases of tinnitus involve a more disruptive ringing at night closer to bedtime, and still others are only occasional “spikes” of tinnitus.

Around 1 in 10 Americans suffers from tinnitus. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including age and certain chronic health problems. However, one of the most common causes is frequent exposure to heavy equipment or firearms. Because of this, tinnitus is an especially common condition in veterans.

Shooter’s Ear is another condition involving hearing damage or loss. Specialists can usually tell when someone is a shooter because they have uneven loss of hearing in their ears. This is because the shooting arm usually shields the ear closest to the firearm, so a person ends up with more damage to the opposite ear.

Whether it’s headphones or earplugs, there are multiple ways to protect your ears from hearing loss while using a firearm.

How to protect your ears

Luckily, gun-related hearing loss is entirely preventable. The most basic way to help your ears is to wear earmuffs or earplugs. These will create a seal around either the whole ear or the ear canal and block out the sound.

If you’re a hunter, you might be wondering how you can wear earmuffs and still be able to pick up on key sounds, like the footsteps of an approaching animal. The good news is that now there are digital hearing aids you can wear. They sense the sounds around you to filter out the harmful ones while still letting you hear a conversation with fellow hunters or the animals you are tracking.

For more information about safe and responsible firearm use, consider taking a Concealed Coalition class. Find the classes nearest to you.

This post was originally made on January 24, 2022. It has since been updated for 2023.

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