By Dale W. Swanson
Painless, Progressive, and Permanent. That is the reality of hearing loss over time. Although hearing aids can make a difference in many lives, the sound quality is not the same as natural hearing, which can’t be recovered once lost. However, hearing loss is preventable in many cases through the use of ear plugs and ear muffs. Even when you’re not shooting at the range, everyday noise can affect a critical sense needed for situational awareness and just enjoying life.
Gradual hearing loss can begin in adolescence with loud rock concerts (80s metal bands in my case), blasting car stereos, hunting in the fall, and just target shooting without ear protection. After all, who wants to look uncool shooting a .22 at soda cans? Who wants to put in ear plugs when duck or deer hunting? I even knew a guy in college who occasionally fired a .458 Win Mag without hearing protection. It all adds up.
And then many of us join the military. Rifle ranges, machine gun ranges, tank gunnery, and live-fire exercises are extremely noisy and can damage hearing very quickly. Ever been near an M1A1 Abrams when the main gun or .50 cal. M2 fires and not have ear pro? I have. It’s not pleasant. Turbine engine checks and aircraft engine noise, while less immediately painful than the impulse noise of gunfire, also is damaging.
What about around your compound? Think about the racket a lawnmower makes, or a chainsaw, compressors, nail guns, or other power tools. Working a chop saw or circular saw can make your ears ring with repeated exposure.
On the weekends, many of us spend time in noisy environments. Rock concerts, sports events, and sport flying are all noisy activities. Playing in a band with amplifiers can also takes its toll on your eardrums. I like doing many of these, along with shooting sports, and am at risk if I don’t use hearing protection.
My Dad used to laugh at me when I suggested he wear ear plugs when riding his motorcycle, and now in his 70s he can’t hear much without hearing aids. It does get frustrating telling him things two and three times because he’s deaf as a post, and it was preventable.
At some point, after a lifetime of loud noise exposure, you may experience a version of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a ringing, hissing, or buzzing in the ear(s) that is nature’s way of saying “you now have hearing loss, nice work.” I have started noticing this myself since 2010 and am not going to let it progress further if I can help it, so I tend to be OCD when around loud noises these days. I will wear ear plugs to concerts, motorcycle riding, and even on long drives in my very loud Honda Accord. Call me a dork and I won’t care…at least I’ll be able to hear you.
We all have active lifestyles, and many of us target shoot. Most ranges these days require you to use ear pro. I always double up with ear muffs and ear plugs, either foam or some rubber/plastic type. I tend to be a pack rat, and collect all sorts of things to include various types of earplugs as shown below.
Top row: Decibullz custom-molded earplugs I just started using, Surefire EP-3s that I like for hunting, 1990s Army-issued triple-flange plugs.
Bottom row: Foam earplugs available at any grocery store, 3M military earplugs I got at the AUSA convention one year, and Peltor combat earplugs.
The Surefire, 3M, and Peltor plugs each have the feature of protecting against either impulse noise or all noise.
I have two favorite pairs of ear muffs, both from Howard Leight, and both are electronic. They amplify environmental noise so you can hear birds, critters and range commands clearly. However, they shut off immediately and protect your ears when an impulse noise exceeds 82 decibels.
I use the thinner Impact Sport for hunting and sporting clays. The Impact Pro is a bit larger, so I save it for target shooting from a bench. Both are reasonably priced and are available on Amazon.com.
If you enjoy loud, noise-intensive hobbies and house projects as I do, think about your precious hearing, which can be lost slowly over time. Make a habit of using ear pro to protect yourself. Once hearing is gone, you can never recover it, and life is too short to live with partial deafness as a handicap.
Some knowledgeable sources for further information: