Hearing loss does not just mean an inability to hear certain sounds at the level you did before. There are types of hearing loss that may cause considerable pain and annoyance from the constant ringing in the ears to other types of issues. This is very common with those who fire weapons on a regular basis and those who do not wear hearing protection may experience permanent hearing loss.
The Noise Created by Firing Guns
Different types and calibers of weapons create different levels of noise. Firearms are some of the worst sources of high levels of noise. For example, a single shot from a .357 magnum pistol produces 165 decibels of noise in just 2 milliseconds which is the equivalent of working over 40 hours in a noisy environment.
The average decibels created by firearms range from the .32 LONG which produces 152 dB up to the aforementioned .357 magnum that creates 165 dB. However, what makes gunfire so damaging is the brief duration which does not allow the ears to adjust. This means that a single shot may cause more damage in the few milliseconds that the blasts last compared to several hours exposure of noises such as constructions sites or being near jets taking off. Exposure to noise levels greater than 140 dB can result in permanent hearing loss which means that virtually any gun you fire presents a real danger to your hearing. Plus, once the damage takes place, there is no way for it to heal or return to its previous levels. This means that you will need to find good ear protection that significantly reduces the level of noise which is generated.
Noise Reduction Rating
The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is the measurement in the reduction of noise that you will experience when using ear protection. Generally speaking, most ear plugs or ear muffs will provide from 0 up to 33 dB reduction in the amount of noise would otherwise enter the ears. The NRR is the current standardized method and the greater the number, the more the noise is reduced.
So, when you are shopping around for ear protection, you will want to find the products that offer an NRR rating of 25 dB or more. So, if you were to experience decibel ratings of 80 dB and you are wearing ear plugs that offer a 25 dB reduction, this means that you would experience 55 dB actually reaching your ears. However, keep in mind that the actual rating of reduction will probably be less because the NRR was set under perfect laboratory conditions.
Hearing Protection Types
Electronic Noise Cancellation: This is essentially an ear muff that covers the entire ear and incorporates electronic technology that dampens particular sound waves. This means that the protection is nearly instantaneous and will provide what is needed when firing a weapon. Plus, because the sound waves are selectively suppressed, you can talk to those around you and hear important sounds while wearing this product.
Passive Ear Plugs: These are soft plugs made from plastic or foam that enter the ear canal and fill in the surround space. They are passive in that they do not use any electronic devices to lower the decibels coming into the ear. They are the least expensive, yet they also provide good protection for your ears. However, there are better products on the market today.
Passive Hearing Protection: This is a form of ear muffs that cover the entire ear as opposed to ear plugs. There are no electronic devices that dampen the noise, however the muff itself is usually enough to cover all of the ear. This means that it provides better protection that most ear plugs and can be used by multiple people without the fear of passing along infections. However, since the design of the ear muff is to dampen all of the sound, it can be difficult, if not impossible to talk to each other or hear other sounds while they are being worn.
Active vs. Passive Hearing Protection Earmuffs
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types and they come in three basic styles;
- Over the Head
- Over the Cap
- Behind the Neck
The over the cap version is designed to be worn if the person is also wearing a construction hard hat or other type of head gear. The same is true for the behind the neck version. However, the standard over the head type is less expensive that the other two.
Electronic earmuffs that provide active protection offer the single biggest advantage in that they selectively reduce the noise so that you can talk and understand those around you while not experiencing the blast from a weapon. However, they are far more expensive and will require batteries that need changing when they are drained of power.
If money is no object, then having electronic earmuffs offer the best protection as they cover the entire ear and shut out the high decibels generated from firearms. The passive ear plug is generally the worst because it only provides partial protection and if the ear canal is not totally filled will allow the higher decibel noises to enter. However, passive ear plugs and earmuffs are also the least expensive and can be purchased readily at many different retail stores.
In the end, investing in a good pair of electronic earmuffs is probably the best answer as they provide maximum protection while allowing you to hear conversation and important sounds that otherwise would be missed. Passive ear protection is simply too limiting as you may miss out on important sound that would change how perceive the events going on around you.
One compromise if you are alone and have no need to listen to others is combining passive ear plugs with earmuffs as that offers the best combination of protection when shooting. While you may not be able to hear much, the chances of having the high decibel sounds from your weapon fire will be greatly reduced to the point where you may enjoy little to no hearing loss at all even if you fire weapons on a regular basis.