It’s that time of year again. The leaves have fallen from the trees, the temperature has dropped and hunters are sighting in their shotguns and rifles as they prepare for the 2010 hunting season. When we think about hunter safety, we typically think bright orange. Most don’t consider their hearing healthcare as a safety concern.
According to NIOSH’s occupational noise exposure standards, one time exposure to shotgun or rifle fire can exceed 140 decibels (dB) causing instantaneous permanent damage. 140 decibels is a large number, but what does that mean? 85 dB is the level where sound can start to become hazardous to a person’s hearing and safe exposure time for unprotected ears at 85 dB is eight hours. At 90 dB, which is approximately the level of a lawn mower, safe exposure time for unprotected ears is 2.5 hours. At 100 dB, which is approximately the level of a chain saw or motorcycle, safe exposure time is only 15 minutes for unprotected ears! How about 120 dB? That is the threshold of pain and safe exposure time for unprotected ears is less than 10 seconds! The louder a sound is, the shorter the safe exposure time. A gun shot is not a long drawn out sound, it is an impulse noise loud enough to cause instantaneous permanent damage to the auditory system.
While many will wear hearing protection such as muffs and traditional earplugs when they sight in their shotguns or rifles on the range, it can be dangerous to do so when out in the woods. With traditional hearing protection, a hunter would not only miss the sound of a deer walking on the bed of leaves that cover the ground, they may also miss the sound of another approaching animal or hunter. Without the use of appropriate hearing protection, the hunter may likely complain of tinnitus or ringing in the ears and diminished hearing as a result of noise trauma.
Fortunately, protecting your ears while hunting is feasible with custom hearing protection designed just for hunters and others in similar sudden-noise environments. The custom hearing protection designed for hunters allows for essentially normal hearing until dangerous noise levels are reached, prompting a filter to close immediately and help to preserve hearing.