Thomas Lowry, M.D.
Otolaryngology (ENT)/Head and Neck Surgery
For many Wisconsinites, autumn colors and cool mornings in early September signal the beginning of the long-awaited hunting season. Multigenerational families enjoy shooting sports and hunting. Why wouldn’t they? Wisconsin has some of the best hunting opportunities in the country. I would even argue that the beauty of our woods, prairies, lakes and streams are second to none.
I am an avid sportsman myself, and after seeing patients in the Ear, Nose & Throat Department for the past 17 years, I am amazed by how many people don’t wear hearing protection when they shoot guns. I see patients every week with hearing loss, and a large number of those patients have a history of noise exposure without the use of hearing protection.
Studies show that people who use guns are more likely to develop permanent hearing loss than those who don’t. Shooting without hearing protection practically guarantees you will suffer at least some degree of hearing loss in your lifetime. Aging and heredity also contribute to hearing loss, but exposure to noise, especially noise from guns, is the one preventable variable that you can control to reduce your risk hearing loss.
To put things into perspective, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that on-the-job noise exposure to noise of 115 decibels (dBA) not exceed 15 minutes per day. A .22-caliber rifle produces a noise level of 140 dBA, and a typical deer rifle can produce noise greater than 175 dBA.
Sound levels can increase at firing ranges where sound waves bounce off walls. Permanent hearing loss can occur with a single shot if no hearing protection is used. In addition to hearing loss, tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, can develop temporarily or permanently.
The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. Wearing hearing protection, such as earplugs or muffs, allows you to still hear soft sounds while preventing damage to your ears from loud noises, especially with some of the more expensive options.
You also could wear hearing protection around your neck while in the woods and quietly put it in place just before the shot. Your local sporting goods store usually carries an assortment of inexpensive, effective products.
Set a good example and wear them when hunting with your family and friends. Help your children and grandchildren know the importance of wearing hearing protection, similar to wearing a helmet when riding a bike.
Hearing protection is necessary when using guns. Make the effort to bring hearing protection for all shooters and bystanders when target shooting and hunting. Believe it or not, once you make this a habit, you’ll be surprised how little it affects your hunting experience.