If you’ve been around guns, it’s likely you are familiar with the issues regarding hearing loss. But is it really that dangerous? How much noise is too much?
We know that loud noises kill the nerve endings in our inner ears, and we know that the more you are exposed to these noises, the more chance of permanent hearing loss. This loss typically starts with the inability to hear high-frequency sounds. But what noises cause damage, and are gun noises too loud to be safe?
Before we talk about guns, let’s talk about decibels (dB). Typically, any noise over 85 dB is considered harmful in the long term. That means that if you work in an environment louder than 85 dB, OSHA requires you to wear some sort of hearing protection. The CDC sets that threshold at 70 dB. For context, a Red Rider BB gun is 97 dB. If you are just using that for a brief time, no problem. But if you are listening to it continuously all day, every day it could potentially cause hearing loss.
If a BB gun is 97 dB, you can imagine that guns increase in dB from there. Bigger guns have dB rates from 140 to 170 dB. Because the noise is brief, we might dismiss it; however, sounds this loud can be quite dangerous, even in the short term. Sounds louder than 150 dB can burst your eardrum; over 185 can affect your internal organs.
At the very least, you are encouraged to wear ear protection when firing any gun. The idea of a silencer is to decrease the dB, bringing it into the tolerable range. Look at the graph below: the idea is to get guns out of the red and into the orange/yellow range. The goal is to get the noise level below the dangerous 140 dB level (black vertical line). If you see a rating of 25 dB, for example, that means the silencer decreases the sound 25 dB at the ear, bringing it out of the red and into the orange or yellow range.
Bigger guns have two noise issues: the shot and the crack, or the breaking of the sound barrier. The silencer can reduce the shot but not the crack. I will be discussing that in a future post.