Hearing protection is a neglected necessity. I see so many photos of women not wearing any ear protection and it has made me stop and wonder why. I believe it is the perceived inconvenience coupled with not having a full understanding of how important it is.
Let’s cover the basics first. Hearing professionals warn that even a single exposure to any noise above 85 decibels can begin to harm hearing and if high enough (gunshots included) can cause instant or permanent damage. The average gun blast can measure between 140 and 150 decibels. So what does this mean? It means shooting a firearm is very loud and that can damage your hearing!!
Ear protection in one form or another is a necessity when you train. It can come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors. There are some important things to consider when making your selection.
There are three types, these include; passive earplugs, passive hearing protection muffs, and electronic hearing protection muffs. Passive simply means they don’t utilize electronics.
- Ear plugs are typically soft plug made from plastic or foam and are placed into the ear opening.
- Passive Ear Muffs have cups which cover each ear entirely. The muffs are usually connected with a headband. Because muffs cover the entire ear and seal themselves against your head, they provide a better level of ear protection.
- Electronic Ear Muffs use electronic technology that reduces the noise down to a level that isn’t harmful to the human ear. Electronic ear muffs allow the wearer to hear everything that is going on around them, but when a shot is fired it electronically dampens the higher noise.
Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is the hearing protection rating method used in the U.S. and extends from 0 to 33 decibels. The higher the NRR the greater the noise level is reduced. This rating should be found on the product packaging. While wearing hearing protection your exposure to noise is equal to the total noise level minus the NRR of the hearing protection. For example, if you are exposed to 80db of noise but were wearing earplugs with an NRR of 29, your actual noise exposure would only be 51dB.
Here is a chart showing the decibels from different types of firearms:
- .38 Revolver – 150 dB
- 9mm – 160 dB
- .45 Semi-Automatic – 165 dB
- .357 Revolver – 160 dB
- 12 Gauge Shotgun – 155 dB
- .22 Rifle – 145 dB
- A normal conversation is at about 60 dB.
The efficacy of the different types of ear protection vary so close attention to the NRR rating is important. When using two forms of hearing protection (ear plugs and muffs) you can add approximately 5-10 decibels to your total NRR protection level. An example would be using earplugs with an NRR rating of 26 dB and a pair of ear muffs with an NRR rating of 28 you would have a total NRR protection level of about 37 dB
The wider or fatter the earmuff typically will also provide greater protection as they have greater “space” for the sound to be diffused. There are many thin profiled ear muffs available now which are more comfortable when shooting long guns as they get in the way less. Also, many women think they look better than the larger bulkier versions. Find the highest NRR rating you can on the low profile models.
One size does not fit all and proper fit is critical for them to provide you with the protection you need. A woman’s head and ear canals are typically smaller than a males which can make finding hearing protection that fits properly a challenge. There are now earplugs designed for a woman’s smaller ear canal and ear protection sized more appropriately for women.
Just like the saying “if it’s not with you, it can’t save you”, referring to the carrying of your gun, hearing protection must be with you to protect you. Here are some tips…
Keep your hearing protection in your range bag at all times. You can’t go to the range without your gun, so if your ears are with your gun – you can’t go without.
Keep a pair of earplugs in your purse, your glove compartment or your briefcase. You never know when the opportunity to go shoot may come up. If you can – buy an extra set of ear muffs and keep a pair in the car.
It really doesn’t matter what you look like right? However, there are a lot of new “stylish” ear muffs available so not looking good is not a valid excuse anymore. As a new grandmother, I can tell you, hearing the sounds of those precious little voices is worth the little bit of extra effort!