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Firearms are loud!

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  • Written By: Felicia Messimer
Firearms are loud!

Did you know that about 36 million Americans suffer from some hearing loss. One in three developed their hearing loss as a result of exposure to loud noise. In fact, more than 30 million Americans are exposed to hazardous sound levels on a regular basis.

According to Michael Stewart, PhD, CCC-A, Professor of Audiology at Central Michigan University, exposure to noise greater than 140 dB (decibels) can permanently damage hearing.

Almost all firearms create noise that is over the 140-dB level. A small .22-caliber rifle can produce noise around 140 dB, while big-bore rifles and pistols can produce sound over 175 dB. Firing guns in a place where sounds can reverberate, or bounce off walls and other structures, can make noises louder and increase the risk of hearing loss. Also, adding muzzle brakes or other modifications can make the firearm louder. People who do not wear hearing protection while shooting can suffer a severe hearing loss with as little as one shot, if the conditions are right. Audiologists see this often, especially during hunting season when hunters and bystanders may be exposed to rapid fire from big-bore rifles, shotguns, or pistols.

Hearing Loss Due To Firearm Noise
People who use firearms are more likely to develop hearing loss than those who do not. Firearm users tend to have high-frequency permanent hearing loss, which means that they may have trouble hearing speech sounds like "s," "th," or "v" and other high-pitched sounds. The left ear (in right-handed shooters) often suffers more damage than the right ear because it is closer to, and directly in line with, the muzzle of the firearm. Also, the right ear is partially protected by head shadow. People with high-frequency hearing loss may say that they can hear what is said but that it is not clear, and they may accuse others of mumbling. They may not get their hearing tested because they don't think they have a problem. They may also have ringing in their ears, called tinnitus. The ringing, like the hearing loss, can be permanent.

Protecting Your Hearing From Firearm Noise
The good news is that people can prevent hearing loss by using appropriate hearing protective devices (HPDs), such as earmuffs or earplugs. However, studies have shown that only about half of shooters wear hearing protection all the time when target practicing. Hunters are even less likely to wear hearing protection because they say they cannot hear approaching game or other noises. While some HPDs do limit what a person can hear, there are many products that allow shooters to hear softer sounds while still protecting them from loud sounds like firearm noise.

Tips To Protect Your Hearing

  • Always use some type of hearing protection any time you fire a gun.
  • Always have disposable HPDs handy—make them part of your gear.
  • Double-protect your ears, like putting muffs over plugs, when shooting big-bore firearms.
  • Choose smaller caliber firearms for target practice and hunting.
  • Choose single-shot firearms instead of lever action, pump, or semi-automatic guns.
  • Avoid shooting in groups or in reverberant environments.

For more information on audiology and hearing loss, visit

We're here to help you hear!
If you would like to know more about your hearring, or if a comprehensive hearing test was indicated, call the Campbell County Medical Group Audiology at 307-688-4368 for an appointment with audiologist Kathryn Schmidt-Miller, MS, CCC. At the Audiology Clinic, we provide identification, assessment and rehabilitation of hearing loss. Kathy is a member and has served on the board of the National Hearing Conservation Association. If hearing is your concern, we are here to meet your needs. Learn more at

  • Category: Campbell County Medical Group Audiology