Preventing Hearing Damage

Sound advice will make sales and help your customers keep their hearing.

Preventing Hearing Damage

Everyone entering your store needs hearing protection. It’s up to you to teach them how to protect themselves.  

No matter their occupation or hobbies, everyone is bound to encounter situations where hearing damage is possible. The sounds don’t even need to be extreme. Simply cutting grass can expose them to harmful noise levels. Exposure to moderate sound levels repeatedly or over extended periods can cause just as much damage.   

Your customers have more need for concern. Their interest in firearms and shooting puts them more at risk than the average citizen. Gunfire is so loud and creates such pressure that it only takes a few shots to damage nerves in the ear. The worst part is that once damaged, the resulting hearing loss is irreversible. The good news is that it is all preventable. 

The Need

Selling hearing protection is no different than selling any other item. Convince your customers of the absolute need, and the products will practically sell themselves. It seems like common sense, but I still encounter shooters inserting strange things in their ears for protection. I’ve seen them use spent casings (stylish but not very practical), old cigarette filters (Yuck), cotton balls, and even previously used foam earplugs dug from the depths of their shooting bag. If these people truly understood what was at stake, they wouldn’t do those things.  

So, what is the danger? How can we convince them? The answer is by tying their emotions to the topic. Suppose you tell them how the hearing loss will strain relationships and make hearing their buddies at get-togethers practically impossible. In that case, you’re motivating them to act on their need. It’s no longer abstract. It becomes their reality. Chart 1 provides examples of how hearing loss can affect their daily activities.

The Culprit

Science speaks of sound volume in terms of decibels (abbreviated dB). Decibel levels aren’t helpful in and of themselves. They become relevant when comparing one sound level to another. It wouldn't mean much if I told you that everyday speech measures around 50 dB. But, if we compare that to the sounds in a busy office (about 60 dB), we can see that a busy office is 10 db louder. The higher the number, the louder the sound is. Operating a vacuum cleaner averages about 70 dB.  

These numbers are useful but somewhat deceiving. Each increase appears linear as the decibel numbers go up. This isn’t true. Decibels increase exponentially, so 60dB sounds are 10 times as loud as 50dB, and 70dB sounds are 10 times louder than 60 and 100 times louder than 50dB.  80dB would be 1,000 times louder than 50dB. Hearing loss can begin with sounds as low as 85db.  

I use 9mm for most of my shooting. Using the Decibel Pro app [on my iPad, I measure a reading of 160db at the range. That’s a billion times louder than the sounds I’m making while typing this article. A couple of shots is all it takes to sustain permanent hearing loss. Decibel Pro is great for measuring sound levels. It’s easy to use and provides accurate results without expensive equipment.

Protection Ratings

Hearing protection falls under the purview of several government agencies in the United States.  The main one is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Regulations require hearing protection devices be tested under controlled conditions so consumers can see how they compare. The results are displayed as a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) and must be on the packaging for all new devices sold. The larger the NRR number, the better the protection can be. Some mistakenly believe the number correlates directly with decibels, but that’s false. Like decibels, it is merely a tool for comparison purposes.

The label above is an older label, where each device was given a single numerical effectiveness rating. The labels below illustrate the updated standard, which displays the rating as a range of numbers, indicating how the device will likely function in real-world conditions.   

The lower number in the range shows what an average user could expect. The higher number indicated what an experienced user could achieve after fitting the hearing protection correctly. For electronic hearing protection devices, the label will show two standards. One will be in passive mode, while the other rating will be in active mode.

Types of Protection

The most common form of hearing protection is earplugs. There are many different designs. Some are made of silicone and can be used more than once. Others are made of foam and are disposed of after one use.  

More advanced earplugs have plastic housings with replaceable tips. These can be either passive or active (more on that in a minute). Another common choice is a cap device, which is so named because it is designed to act like caps to seal each ear canal. A flexible headband frequently attaches them so they can be worn around the neck when unused.  

Most people are familiar with earmuffs. These are like cups that go around the ears and seal them off, isolating them from the noisy environment.  They can provide passive protection, meaning that they block sound without electronics or use electronics to provide active protection. Most active hearing devices allow normal sounds to be heard but block dangerous sound levels automatically. Most also offer amplification levels of low sounds, making them great for people with some hearing loss.  

A further category includes active, noise-canceling muffs designed to cancel out constant background noises while not hindering everyday speech.

Hearing Impairment

When I first began wearing hearing aids, I was concerned about wearing earmuffs over them. I spoke with multiple doctors and audiologists and received conflicting information. I eventually decided to experiment. I found it possible to wear the muffs over the hearing aids without an issue. The only concern I had centered around moisture buildup. Water and electronics don’t mix well, and hearing aids are expensive. Taking periodic breaks to remove muffs is a good idea as it allows the built-up moisture to escape. I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same success I have. Talk to your physician or audiologist for advice. When I’ve taken training classes and would be shooting for extended periods, I’ve removed the hearing aids and substituted electronic earplugs. This has evolved into standard practice for me. It’s important to note that hearing aids or electronic earplugs must be turned off or to their lowest setting. The muffs can then be used normally. If the earplugs are turned on, they work against the muffs by amplifying the noise through the first layer of protection.

Final Points

Each point above is only the bare minimum that the salesperson should know to provide excellent customer advice. Help your customers preserve their quality of life on the range and at home. It’s essential even for those with hearing loss — probably more important — because they need to keep it from getting worse.  

I joke with my wife about my hearing loss. She says I don’t listen to her, and I say, “huh?” I assure you that telling your wife, “if it’s worth saying once, it’s worth repeating” doesn’t usually end well.


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