That’s why I’m VERY obsessed with hearing protection (and eye protection but that’s another article). It doesn’t take much to keep your hearing intact. Aside from severe trauma to the ears that can cause instant loss, most ear damage doesn’t really become noticeable right away. That’s really the worst part. You could do something bad to your ears when you’re young and the extent doesn’t become obvious to you until years later. Only then do you regret putting your head next to the speaker at that heavy metal concert. Not to mention that constant dull ringing sound that results from damage is annoying as hell (and shows up faster than the hearing loss).
The best part? Hearing protection doesn’t cost much. It’s not like rifle optics where there is a huge difference between a $20 scope and a $2000 one. For the most part, a $0.50 set of foam ear plugs is adequate in about 98% of situations. So should you just use those plugs and call it a day? Let’s look at the options, shall we?
Wait! I almost forgot! There’s just one concept we need to take a look at first. When you look at the packaging for various items, you’ll notice an “NRR” number. This is the Noise Reduction Rating. The term was coined by the EPA and it specifies how much of the sound, in decibels, is reduced. Keep in mind, hearing loss starts at around 85 dB, but that requires prolonged exposure (around 8 hours). At 100 dB, damage kicks in after 15 minutes of exposure. For instant damage, we’re looking at the 140+ dB range. So, say you had a 9mm pistol that, on average, produces about 160 dB when fired. If your earplugs have a NRR of 32 dB, that means that the sound that finally reaches those delicate ear drums is going to be about 128 db (160-32) which is certainly below that instant damage area (although I wouldn’t want prolonged exposure to that level for any long period of time). What if you combined some ear plugs with earmuffs? Well, according to the EPA, that only results in a 5-10 dB increase in NRR rating. Not much but if you’re really concerned, every little bit helps.
For a good list of cartridge calibers and the sound they produce, check out http://www.freehearingtest.com/hia_gunfirenoise.shtml