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What Is “Shooter’s Ear”, and How Can You Manage It?

Guns are a popular hobby here in the US, with nearly a third of citizens owning their own firearm. Whether for sport, protection or just for fun, guns are dangerous – and not just in the conventional way. Guns are responsible for a common malady that has even been named for the firearm: “Shooter’s Ear”.

What Is “Shooter’s Ear”?

“Shooter’s Ear” is a term that describes a specific pattern of symptoms relating to exposure to loud, sudden sound. It is well-known that excessively loud sounds can instantly damage ears; consistent exposure to noises above 115 decibels can irritate the inner ear and cochlea, while the percussive element of loud sound can physically damage the eardrum and inner ear.

We commonly think of hearing loss as related to consistent, long-term exposure to loud sounds such as concerts, airplane engines or heavy machinery. We also think of hearing loss as something that affects both ears, both being present in a loud environment. Shooter’s Ear, though, describes hearing damage or loss localized to one of your ears, as a result of shooting firearms from that side of the body.

Danger to Hearing

Gunshots represent more than just a loud sound – and can do far more damage to hearing than they might initially seem to. Gunshots are explosions with a high “transient”, meaning they achieve extremely high volumes for extremely short periods of time.

This brief spike in volume is essentially a high-energy, high-pressure blast of air that can seriously damage ears, from rupturing the eardrum to shocking the small bones of the inner ear. One gunshot alone is enough to permanently damage hearing, while repeated use of a firearm without taking the correct precautions can lead to profound hearing loss and even chronic pain in the affected ear.

Preventing Shooter’s Ear

Whether you’re a target shooter, hunter or simply blowing off steam down the range, you should be adopting the same overabundance of caution when it comes to protecting your hearing. If you believe you’re already suffering from Shooter’s Ear, you should book in an online hearing test to ascertain the damage done so far; adopting the following measures is just as important for those already suffering hearing loss as for those yet to.

The only effective habit you can make regarding the prevention of hearing damage is to wear hearing protection. You might be tempted to fit a suppressor or silencer to your firearm instead of wearing protection, but these are not as effective as movies would lead you to believe.

Ear plugs will suffice in a pinch, but over-ear ear defenders should be worn for maximum protection against the volume of gunfire near your face. If shooting at a range or with others, you should keep your hearing protection even when not shooting. This is because other gunshots can be just as harmful as your own.

Jeff Campbell