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Lessons In Shooter Safety

OK, listen up. Firearm safety doesn’t end with proper firearm handling and care. It also includes hearing protection. This means wearing earplugs or earmuffs whenever you shoot a rifle, shotgun or pistol. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 10 million Americans have already suffered irreversible damage from noise, and 30 million more are exposed to dangerous noise levels each day. An extreme noise, like the firing of a shotgun experienced at close range, can permanently damage your hearing in an instant. This is known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Noise-induced hearing loss can result from one-time exposure to a loud sound like gunfire, and it can also be caused by repeated exposure to harmful sounds over an extended period of time. Just ask any hunter over 50 who has not worn hearing protection!


The loudness of a sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). An ordinary conversation is approximately 60 dB; city traffic noise can reach 80 dB; and firearms can reach an ear-piercing 140 to 170 dB. Loud noises above 80 dB can damage the inner ear for good. Not only can sudden loud noises, like gunshots or firecrackers at close range result in hearing loss, but prolonged exposure to machine noise in a workshop over time can be damaging, too. Fact: Noise-induced hearing loss is one of America’s most common workplace injuries.


Absolutely. You can help prevent noise-induced hearing loss by understanding the hazards of noise and by practicing good hearing health, whether in the field, at home or at work.

  • Know which noises cause damage (80 dB and above).
  • Wear earplugs, earmuffs or other hearing protection devices when involved in a loud activity such as shooting.
  • Be alert to hazardous noises in the environment.
  • Make family, friends and fellow shooting enthusiasts aware of noise hazards.
  • If you’re having trouble hearing or if sounds you hear are muffled and distorted or there is a ringing or roaring sound in your ears, see a doctor at once! Your doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in the ear, nose, and throat. You may also have your hearing tested by an audiologist.

Contact the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) with your questions about noise induced hearing loss at:

Voice: (800) 241–1044
TTY: (800) 241–1055
Fax: (301) 907–8830

Presented by WISE EARS, a coalition of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, businesses, industries and unions to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

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