Of all the pastimes to participate in, few present as much risk to our hearing as shooting.
It goes without saying that gun shots are loud. Almost all weapons generate over 140db when discharged, with some pistols exceeding 175dB. To put that into context, the threshold of pain is 130dB and discharging a weapon can cause immediate hearing damage without hearing protection being worn.
Without protection, these explosions can cause instant Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), which can be permanent. NIHL happens as a result of the eardrum being ruptured or the bones in the middle of the ear becoming damaged. And while total deafness is thankfully rare, firearms users are also at risk of developing tinnitus. Tinnitus is a permanent sensation of ringing or buzzing in the ears caused by damage to the tiny hairs inside the ear. Tinnitus sufferers may also have difficulties hearing speech and other day-to-day sounds. Fortunately many cases of tinnitus can be prevented with good hearing protection.
Hearing protection is widely available and inexpensive, and whilst you can't put a price on your hearing, what is the best protection for you?
With a wide range of products on sale, we took a look at some of the options out there, with various prices, positives and negatives.
Disposable foam earplugs
The most common solution is the widely available disposable ear plug. These are cheap to buy in bulk, and often offered for free in places where noise limits exceed the safe limit as defined by law.
While generally effective, these earplugs can make the wearer feel isolated as they block out all sounds, including speech – which may be important to hear when shooting competitively or socially. They’re also only designed for single use, reusing them can lead to ear infections, which makes them an environmentally unfriendly option.
Reusable filtered earplugs
Reusable earplugs are more environmentally friendly and cost effective as they can last for years. For under £20, Auritech Shoot ear plugs, for example, are made from medical grade silicone which can be wiped down and reused over and over again. Auritech Shoot have a clever ceramic filter built in, which overcomes the feeling of isolation that solid plugs can lead to.
The filter brings multiple benefits. It allows a more balanced pressure in the ear and eliminates the feeling of overheating which can come when the ears are fully blocked. Most importantly, these filtered plugs allow for speech and other sounds to be heard clearly while the filter reduces the level of harmful sounds getting though. Auritech’s product also comes in a handy keyring style tube, ensuring that there’s no reason to be caught short without adequate protection.
Custom fit filtered earplugs
Bringing all the benefits of universal fit plugs like Auritech Shoot, but with the added benefit of a personalised fitting, these custom fit plugs are moulded directly to your ear.
Because they’re custom fitted, they bring the added benefits of better sound attenuation and extra comfort. They are more expensive and require a short fitting session, where moulds are taken from your ears.
Auritech also offers a custom fit solution, with a 2 year warranty.
These are a common sight in the shooting community. They’re big and bulky but relatively inexpensive (albeit pricier than disposable ear plugs) and can be removed easily when not required. They can be somewhat isolating, like solid earplugs, and can be very warm and uncomfortable when worn over a longer period of time. Some people use them in conjunction with filtered earplugs, wearing the filtered plugs throughout the day and donning additional earmuffs when firing the gun.
Electronic hearing protectors
These are technologically advanced earmuffs. Understandably they are the most expensive option out there, but for many regular shooters they are a welcome new addition to the suite of hearing protection on the market.
On a most basic level, they combine earmuffs with noise cancelling headphones. The protectors offer the standard protection of earmuffs, while the electronics (usually speakers and microphone) allow ambient sounds and speech to be heard (and even amplified) while shutting out noise when it hits unsafe levels.
What should I look for when I purchase hearing protection?
There are a number of things to look for when purchasing noise protection.
Attenuation is an important figure which shows the effectiveness of a protector. This value generally ranges up to 30dB. Auritech Shoot, for example, have been independently measured to offer sound attenuation of up to 29.5dB at the most harmful frequencies. It is an important point to check when carrying out your research, as even some fairly substantial looking earmuff style protectors offer protection in the low 20s.
Fit is also very important. This is where muff style protectors have an advantage, as they are almost impossible to fit incorrectly. Earplugs offer a snugger fit when placed properly in the ear. If universal plugs don't have quite the right fit for you, you might prefer to get a custom made solution.
Comfort is also important, especially if you are wearing your hearing protection for a while. Earmuffs can be heavy and bulky, especially electronic ones, and they can make the wearer feel hot and sweaty. Unfiltered earplugs can give the feeling of isolation and, in some cases vertigo due to an imbalance of the ears. Filtered plugs like Auritech Shoot offer the balance of being light and comfortable to wear, with the filter allowing equal pressurisation of the ears and the clear understanding of speech and ambient sound.
Which type of hearing protection is best for me?
NIHL is serious and irreversible, so proper consideration should be taken to finding the right hearing protection for you.
There is no one size fits all solution to hearing protection, so carrying out research and finding what kind of protection works best for you and your situation is vital.
For a short session at the range, you might be happy wearing some ‘closed’ protection, but these can be uncomfortable for a full days shooting. It’s also perfectly ok to mix things up. If you prefer wearing larger earmuffs, we’d also suggest that having some easy to carry around earplugs on hand is always worthwhile, in case you forget your muffs or they become uncomfortable during a long session.
For more information on Auritech Shoot, visit https://www.auritech.co.uk/universal-fit-earplugs/shoot.html