Safe, responsible hunting with firearms requires preparation and knowledge. Hunters must know how to handle guns properly, what licenses they need, and how to dress properly for both safety and mobility, and how to remain visible to other hunters in the outdoors. To truly stay on target this season, don\u2019t overlook the importance of preventing hearing damage.\nHearing protection \u2014 which includes foam plugs, custom plugs, and earmuffs \u2014 is essential when shooting firearms. The loud bang of a gun firing can cause noise-induced hearing loss if proper protection is not worn.\nHow Loud Is a Gun?\nTo explain the damage a gunshot can do, consider how it measures up against other common noises, measured in units called decibels (dB). Normal speech is about 60 dB, lawnmowers are 90, and car horns are 110. Gunshots, however, can top out at 140 or 150 decibels.\nWhen a sound is that loud, a single exposure can cause hearing loss. Repeated gunshots, such as at a firing range or when hunting smaller game, can result in even more problems. As a rule, the louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for the noise to cause hearing damage. Although not everyone\u2019s ears react the same way to noise exposure, hearing loss can be slow and painless. It\u2019s important to protect your ears even if you don\u2019t notice a problem.\nSelecting the Right Hearing Protection\nWhen shopping for earplugs and earmuffs, check the package for information on sound reduction listed in decibels \u2014 the higher the number, the more noise they block.\nIn addition, many sports stores carry ear protection options that not only prevent hearing damage but also amplify sound between shots. Some reusable earplugs have acoustic filters that allow safe, low-decibel sounds through while blocking loud noises. This allows hunters to remain aware of their surroundings, including other hunters, vehicles, and game.\nSome earmuffs specifically designed for shooting are electronic and have amplifiers and two-way radios built in. When a microphone detects a high-decibel sound, it can shut down the amplifier temporarily to prevent hearing damage.\nHow Much Protection is Enough?\nIt may seem that plugs or muffs with 20 or 30 dB of sound protection won\u2019t be much help. After all, if noise is dangerous above 85 dB and gunshots are 140-150 dB, some might ask if it\u2019s even worth it.\nLuckily, a little help goes a long way. Since a gun firing is a short burst of noise, muffling it has a big impact on whether you end up with hearing loss.\nOne solution many hunters use is to wear both earplugs and earmuffs. Using two layers of protection does help, but you can\u2019t simply add up the decibel ratings to measure the noise being blocked.\nFocus on choosing ear protection that fits you comfortably and you wear consistently. Hearing damage can occur at any age, so make sure everyone in the hunting party within earshot has their own plugs or muffs. In fact, you can even find earmuffs for dogs.\nApproximately 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 (26 million people) have hearing loss that might have been caused by noise exposure, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. If you wear suitable ear protection, you may save your hearing \u2014 and still bring home a trophy.\nBefore hunting season begins, consider getting your hearing checked to be sure you\u2019re in peak condition.\nVisit the Metro ENT Associates website\u00a0or call 724-772-2711 or 1-866-929-6368\u00a0to schedule an appointment.