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Preview: Ear Protection 101: A Guide to Preventing Hearing Loss on a Budget

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Huh? What’d You Say?

Not wearing safety gear to the range is like forgoing protection during a one night stand: the consequences are life changing and possibly permanent. The saddest part is that, with some common sense, they’re 100-percent preventable.

No self-respecting shooter in his or her right mind would hit the range without the appropriate kit, eye protection, and ear protection. Having delved into eyewear in RECOIL Issue 8, we’re going to focus here on the latter piece of safety equipment.

Hearing protection will do just that: protect your hearing. And hearing is essential to awareness, but it’s something we take for granted, says Grant Reynolds, a tactical firearms instructor with Solutions Group International. “There are things the eyes won’t pick up due to light restrictions, distance, and defilade. The ears work all the time, 24 hours a day,” says Reynolds, a former Marine Corps sniper. “As you get older, you start to lose certain frequencies that your ears can hear. That’s just the natural order of things. However, spend the day on a range with a .50-cal or even a SAW while not using hearing pro, and you can speed up that natural order real quick.”


Fortunately, the technology that goes into making “ear pro” is quite effective these days. There is now everything from Bluetooth-compatible earmuffs to $1,000 custom hearing aids. However, we recognize that not everyone was born with a silver spoon in their mouths, so we’re zeroing in on models that are available for $100 or less. Read on to find out what’s the best option for your ears and your wallet.

The Fifth Sense
Hearing loss can happen in several ways, but for the purposes of this story we’ll focus on the kind that occurs when sound energy damages one or more of the ear’s three main structures: outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. The outer section consists of an earlobe and auditory canal, which funnel sound waves in. The middle ear contains the eardrum and three tiny bones, which convert the sound waves into mechanical vibrations that are then transmitted to the inner ear. There, a snail-like organ called the cochlea turns the vibrations into nerve impulses that go to the brain. Also, the inner ear helps with maintaining our equilibrium, so hearing damage can also result in disorientation and trouble keeping balance.

Harmful sound waves generally come in two forms: constant sound over time and a single impulse noise. An example of the former could come from working around industrial equipment that isn’t thunderous but continuous. The latter can come from a single exposure to, say, a firecracker going off too close to you.

In the firearms world, hearing conservation didn’t enter the collective consciousness until the mid-20th century. After World War II, many soldiers returned home with varying degrees of hearing loss. But many weren’t diagnosed because hearing damage is often painless and not uniform; not everyone will be injured in the same way by the same noise exposure. There are many factors involved — the caliber of the round, the distance from the gunfire, the frequency between shots, the type of environment, just to name a few. And then there’s the machismo. Doug Moses, the marketing manager for 3M’s Peltor line of hearing protection, says that many old-school shooters had a bit too much testosterone and not enough knowledge: “It used to be a matter of manly pride not to wear ear protection. But once they learn how preventable hearing loss is and how long the damage lasts, they soon change their mind.” The macho culture has given way to common sense in the past decade or two.


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