How does shooting affect your hearing? We look at how to protect your hearing from permanent damage

Have you ever had that ringing sensation in your ears after you have fired your gun? Most of us have! When you are out hunting or at the range you probably use some form of ear protection, but sometimes we forget it at home or it is just not convenient to wear it, so we go without it. What could a few shots fired without ear protection really hurt, right?

Well, it turns out it could actually have lasting effects on your hearing.  According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), when a person is repeatedly exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels (decibels is the measure of sound intensity) or more, a person can start suffering what is known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). So how loud is a gunshot? A shot fired from a 9mm pistol measure at approximately 160 decibels. So you can see that noise from a 9mm is way over the 85 decibel threshold determined by the NIDCD. To give you an idea just how loud a gunshot from a 9mm pistol is, a jet taking off is measured at approximately 140 decibels!

The graphic below shows how different noises compare in terms of decibel levels.

How Shooting Affects Your Hearing
Source: The Smoking Barrel USA

How to know if your hearing has been affected

If you are worried that your hearing has been affected from the noise of gunshots, there are a few basic symptoms you can be on the lookout for:

  • Hearing muffled sounds.
  • Having difficulty distinguishing words when someone is talking to you.
  • Having difficulty determining from which direction a sound is coming.
  • A ringing or buzzing noise in your ears.

If you think you hearing has been affected, you should consult your doctor to get a professional diagnosis and a plan for treatment.

Ways to protect your hearing

Ok, so now that we know how important it is to adequately protect our hearing when shooting, we need to figure out what protection will actually work! A lot of us probably use the old earplugs plugged into our ears method of protection. While earplugs certainly helps a bit, they are not enough. As you will have noticed in the infographic, earplugs only reduce noise by approximately 20 to 30 decibels. The best protection will be to use earplugs in combination with additional ear protection, such as passive earmuffs or electronic earmuffs. By combining earplugs with earmuffs, you will increase the protection given to your hearing.

Another consideration is to put a suppressor on your weapon. The Hearing Protection Act (HPA) was recently introduced, with the purpose of removing suppressors from the purview of the National Firearms Act. This makes buying a suppressor easier and more affordable. Using a suppressor on your weapon won’t eliminate the noise entirely, but according to the American Suppressors Association a suppressor should reduce the noise of a gunshot by approximately 20 to 35 decibels. Together with the other protection methods, it will greatly reduce the affect that the noise will have on your hearing.


Your health is something you should always take seriously. You might not feel the effects of being exposed to excessive noise now, but you will later on when it might be too late. Do yourself a favour and always take the necessary precautions when shooting a firearm to protect your hearing.

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One Response to How does shooting affect your hearing? We look at how to protect your hearing from permanent damage

  1. D.Jaffas May 19, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

    Excellent and surprising article regarding hearing protection.
    I would have thought active noise suppressing headsets would do better. I use just a regular headset and like it just fine. I have a touch of tinitus that showed up after a bout with bronchitis a year ago and have found no treatment.
    I also went a few years without using a headset in my early days of flying that probably didn’t help.
    I shoot frequently both a C9 and a 38 special with the 38 seeming louder but definitely deeper in note.
    Any ideas on the tinitus treatment???
    Thanks for bringing this up. A very important topic…especially for you dare I say it??? Younger folks:-)

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