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What Decibel Ear Protection for Shooting?

Apr. 08, 2024

Which Hearing Protection is Truly Effective for Shooting?


Exposure to extremely loud noises can lead to damage to the tiny hairs in our inner ears, resulting in hearing loss. The intensity of sound is measured in decibels (dB), and hearing impairment can begin with prolonged exposure to sounds at 70 dB (equivalent to the noise level of a washing machine), or sudden exposure to noises ranging around 120 dB (similar to a fire siren), which can cause immediate damage. Gunshots typically range between 120 and 180 dB each. This implies that even a single gunshot could cause permanent hearing damage.


Gun Noise Levels


The noise produced by firearms depends on several factors. Firstly, the shooting environment plays a significant role. Shooting indoors results in sound being reflected back by walls, ceilings, and floors, making it seem "louder" compared to outdoor shooting. Additionally, the type of firearm used influences noise levels. For instance, a .22 caliber firearm is generally quieter than a larger caliber rifle, and a pistol tends to be louder than a rifle under similar conditions.


So, at what decibel level is hearing protection necessary? Many people have fixated on the "magic number" of 140 decibels, especially with the growing popularity of firearm suppressors. This number is often marketed as the threshold for "hearing safety," and suppressors aim to reduce sound to this level. However, the reality is more complex. Even noises at 80 decibels, such as those found in a noisy restaurant or heavy traffic, can cause damage after just 8 hours of exposure. Returning to the shooting range, big-bore pistols can produce noise levels reaching as high as 175 decibels, equivalent to the noise of a rocket launch.


Shooting Hearing Protection

Shooting Hearing Protection

Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)


The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) serves as one gauge of protection level. Typically ranging from 0 to 30, a product's NRR indicates how many decibels it reduces from the source. However, noise measurement operates on a logarithmic scale, so you can't simply subtract the NRR from the source.


Under ideal circumstances, the actual noise level is determined by subtracting 7 from the NRR, and then subtracting that result from the source. For instance, if a rifle generates 150 decibels and your earmuffs have an NRR of 25, after subtracting 7 from 25, you get 18. Subtracting 18 from 150 yields 132. Thus, while firing, you're exposed to 132 decibels—assuming proper use of the devices.


However, NRR might not be the most accurate indicator of hearing protection for loud impulse sounds like gunfire. Since NRR calculates average noise reduction across various frequencies, it doesn't fully account for impulse noises such as gunshots.


Hearing protection comes with a range of ratings known as the noise reduction rating (NRR). When selecting hearing protection, pay attention to the NRR rating, as it signifies the level of noise reduction offered by the product. The higher the NRR, the greater the protection.  


How Many Decibels is Ear Protection for Shooting?


Ear protection for shooting should have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of at least 25 decibels (dB), but it is recommended to use earplugs or earmuffs with an NRR of 30 dB or higher for maximum protection. The loud noise from shooting can cause permanent hearing damage, so it is important to use proper protection. One advantage of wearing earmuffs over earplugs is that they protect your outer ear bones as well as your inner ear bones.


When to Use Shooting Hearing Protection?


Hearing protection should be worn whenever you're exposed to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels. While it might not seem particularly macho, wearing hearing protection is essential for more than just shooting. Whether you're operating a lawnmower, leaf blower, chainsaw, or weedeater, safeguarding your hearing is crucial. And it's especially vital whenever you're shooting a gun. Even the quietest firearm, such as a .22 caliber, still emits 140 decibels, which is enough to cause permanent damage.


Shooting Hearing Protection Options:


1. Earplugs: Earplugs offer a straightforward and efficient method to safeguard your hearing during shooting activities. Available in various shapes and materials like foam or silicone, they are comfortable for extended wear.

2. Earmuffs: Earmuffs present another popular choice for shooting hearing protection. Covering the entire ear, they provide a higher level of noise reduction compared to earplugs. They can also be worn over earplugs for enhanced protection.

3. Electronic Hearing Protection: Utilizing newer technology, electronic hearing protection allows for normal conversation and other sounds while blocking harmful gunfire noise. Equipped with microphones, they amplify sounds below a certain decibel level while instantly blocking loud noises.

4. Custom Earplugs: For a tailored fit offering maximum protection and comfort, custom earplugs are molded to the shape of your ear. Though they may be pricier than other options, they prove to be a worthwhile investment for frequent shooters.


 Shooting Hearing Protection