Hunting in Southwest Louisiana is a passionate pastime. While firearm safety precautions are top of mind, ear protection might not be.

A skilled hunter needs good vision and good hearing to spot game and hear approaching wildlife as well as fellow hunters. Hunting without ear protection can damage ears.

A common type of hearing loss in hunters is asymmetrical hearing loss or shooters ear. It occurs to the left ear on right-handed shooters, and to the right ear on left-handed shooters.

Noise levels above 85 decibels (dB) can cause hearing loss after just one exposure. Most firearms range from 140 to 160 dB, loud enough to damage hearing instantly. By subjecting ears to that kind of damage over time, it’s inevitable that hunters who don’t wear hearing protection consistently will have hearing loss over time.

There are two kinds of shooters: those who wear effective hearing protection and those who have or will have hearing loss.

Loud noise destroys the tiny hair cells in the inner ear that signal the auditory nerve to send sound messages to the brain. Once those cells die, they never grow back. Damage to hearing can affect the ability to understand speech, first at high pitches then at lower pitches.

In addition to the hunter, other people nearby should have hearing protection, too. If you’re at a shooting range, or just along for the hunting trip, you should have ear protection, too. Second-hand hearing loss is just as real as second-hand smoke damage.

Custom-made ear protection devices are available through an audiologist. Ears are like fingerprints, unique to each person. A custom-made device will provide tailor-made protection. They are comfortable and don’t get in the way of hunting.

During a hearing evaluation, the audiologist will determine what type of hearing protection is needed and recommend devices to fit those needs. One thing that’s reassuring for hunters to understand is that hearing protection won’t distort the sound, but will help reduce the intensity.

There are specialized hearing protection devices available for shooters with technology that allows ambient or environmental sounds to pass through while keeping the firearm noise within a safe hearing range.

Instead of hindering the hunt, ear protection can actually increase concentration and reduce flinching, enabling hunters to shoot more accurately.

Jake Cavanaugh, Au.D., is an audiologist with Hearing Solutions of Louisiana and medical staff member of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital