dumb question - do soldiers go deaf?

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Aug 30, 2009
I was watching a war movie and suddenly a question popped into my head - do soldiers go deaf from shooting their rifles? I can't imagine them wearing hearing protection when they're out on patrol.

I know they wear hearing protection during training, but wouldn't firing out in the field damage a soldier's hearing?

I knew a bunch of WWII and Korean vets from my family and their hearing seemed fine. I'm just wondering if perhaps long-term hearing loss is something that happens but you don't hear much about it....?
It does happen, but not just from rifle fire.

One of my grandfathers had serious hearing loss on one of the pacific islands, Iwo Jima I believe. He was walking along a tree line, when a battery of artillery on the other side began volley firing.

I loss some hearing in my left ear but that could be a combination of rifle/machinegun/cannon fire and IEDs. I lost a lot of hearing in my right ear from a training accident. Breaching a door with det-cord, being the third man in the stack and a bad ear infection can all combine to complete ear drum removal. Had to have surgery to have a new ear drum graft on.

The military does issue ear plugs, but most soldiers, if not all, dont wear it on patrol. For the obvious reasons.
Hearing loss and firearms...

Like a lot of police officers, who never have to use their weapon on duty, a lot of veterans of WWII were never exposed to combat, and the consequent damage to their hearing. I always cringe at the guys in the artillery firing off the 105 howitzers without any ear protection.

Sports Afield magazine many years ago ran an article on hearing loss and hunting. The gist of the article was that a single report of a 12 gauge in the field hunting would generate X number of decibels and wipe out your hearing in the 24-26,000 cycle range, IIRCC, which is the upper limits of the human ear.

Just as some people have better eye sight than others, some people have better hearing and why chance damaging your hearing when you don't have to. You wouldn't intentionally allow your eyesight to be damaged so causally would you?

(It always ticks me off when I see children at the range with no hearing protection. The adults are wearing headphones, and the kids have to hold their hands over their ears. You know how long that'll last.)

Some audio stores have a CD available for testing your audio equipment and it plays a tone at various frequencies, up to 30,000 cycles, I believe. I'm always amazed at the difference of what I can hear and what my dogs can hear. I think they can see better in the dark too; I've never seen them trip over anything in the dark.

I have loss in some of the human voice ranges. 3-4 feet away, just sounds like mumble, mumble, mumble. Some voices, however, seem irritatetingly loud. And don't forget tinnitus, 24/7.

Not only shooting weapons, but jackhammers, drills, jet engines, it all gets to you.
Whazzat? Speak up! :rolleyes:

Yes, many who have served in the military have severe hearing loss/damage and attendant auditory nerve damage as well. Not until this current decade were pilots able to begin using electronic noise suppression devices similar to those used by rock musicians. Somehow I doubt that these expensive protective aids are available to the average grunt or arty type. Anymore I even wear plugs when I run my vacuum cleaner; it hurts otherwise.
Yes; almost any loud noise exceeds the 85 decibel safety limit - hammering on metal, tank or truck engines, etc. I never heard a shot fired in anger during my 20 years active duty, and I have serious hearing loss in my left ear and moderate loss in my right.

Wear ear plugs whenever you're exposed to noise! Even when you're mowing your lawn. Double up when in doubt (plugs and muffs)!
I have always wondered what kind of hearing protection is used on carriers by the flight crew.... you're talking some serious noise. Not being in the Navy, I noticed that it is louder than anything I could imagine and hands over your ears is not enough if you are close to those engines.

The answer to the question is "Of course!"
We have someone ask this question about once a month.

The military pays a huge amount of money out for hearing loss disabilities due to soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen suffering partial hearing loss. They also spend money on trying to protect the hearing of service personnel and dedicate resources to research on how to prevent hearing loss.

So, the answer obviously is "Yes".
Yes, soldiers lose a lot of hearing. My left ear is very bad and right ear not as bad as the left. I was an infantryman in Nam in 68-69. Mortars landing near one create a lound piercing noise. Claymores and so much more contribute to this.The VA keeps me updated in excellent hearing aids. Byron
When you go into the Army they give you a base line hearing test and it goes in your medical records.
You will, in the Army get exposed to much more than rifle fire. Military equipment by nature is loud ie.. Generators in the field. Military trucks. M1 tanks qualifying.
You will be exposed to sound generating equipment than you can shake a stick at. Some so loud that your chest will vibrate literally.
There are multitudes of overwatch programs that are in place to ensure you have adequate hearing protection. The responsibility to wear hearing protection is ultimately yours.
There are combat ear plugs that enable sound while supressing rifle fire. Not the walmart version either.
SF, we did not have but simple ear plugs Nam. We did not have time to put them in when all breaks loose. It was imperative to be able to hear commands when needed. I note you are SF and Thank You for that. Our CO was SF and was so before y'all wore Green berets. We were Blessed to have him.What a soldier and leader he was to a bunch of 20 year old grunts. Byron
Yes. My ears are ringing right this second and pretty much all day every day. I have a hard time hearing very high pitch sounds. (cell phones, watch alarms, my wife)

I was around gun fire a little in Iraq but I was around jack hammers, concrete saws, and 260 cfm air compressors all the time. Even trying to wear ear plugs as much as possible my hearing is damaged. The joys of being a combat engineer. When I shoot now I wear plugs and muffs, I even wear plugs mowing my yard and any time I am around things that I think will further damage my hearing.

I have noticed that I shoot better when I wear plugs and muffs espicially when shooting big bore/ hard recoiling rifles off the bench.
My ol' man was a forward spotter for the 4th Marine Division on the islands of Tinian, Saipan and Iwo Jima. I grew up listening to loud radio and TV. Altho dad had severe hearing loss attributed to his service, he was to damn proud to apply for his disability. He always told me his loss of hearing was a small price to pay for the privilege of coming home.
a single report of a 12 gauge in the field hunting would generate X number of decibels

Facts on noise levels:
1. Decibels measure sound pressure and are logarithmic. That means that only a 3db increase almost doubles sound pressure, a 6db increase quadruples sound pressure, etc.
2. Gradual hearing loss may occur after prolonged exposure to 90 decibels or above.
3. Exposure to 100 decibels for more than 15 minutes can cause hearing loss.
4. Exposure to 110 decibels for more than a minute can cause permanent hearing loss.
5. At 140 dBA noise causes immediate injury to almost any unprotected ear.
6. There is also the more extreme ‘acoustic trauma’, which is an immediate loss of hearing after a sudden, exceptionally loud noise such as an explosion.

Noise levels of firearms:
.22 caliber rifle 130dB
.223, 55GR. Commercial load 18" barrel 155.5dB
.243 in 22" barrel 155.9dB
.30-30 in 20" barrel 156.0dB.
7mm Magnum in 20" barrel 157.5dB.
.308 in 24" barrel 156.2dB.
.30-06 in 24" barrel 158.5dB. In 18" barrel 163.2dB.
.375 18" barrel with muzzle brake 170 dB.
.410 Bore 28" barrel 150dB. 26" barrel 150.25dB. 18" barrel 156.30dB.
20 Gauge 28" barrel 152.50dB. 22" barrel 154.75dB.
12 Gauge 28" barrel 151.50dB. 26" barrel 156.10dB. 18" barrel 161.50dB.
.25 ACP 155.0 dB.
.32 LONG 152.4 dB.
.32 ACP 153.5 dB.
.380 157.7 dB.
9mm 159.8 dB.
.38 S&W 153.5 dB.
.38 Spl 156.3 dB.
.357 Magnum 164.3 dB.
.41 Magnum 163.2 dB.
.44 Spl 155.9 dB.
.45 ACP 157.0 dB.
.45 COLT 154.7 dB.

Properly fitted earplugs or muffs reduce noise 15 to 30 dB. The better earplugs and muffs are approximately equal in sound reductions, although earplugs are better for low frequency noise and earmuffs for high frequency noise.

Using muffs and plugs together: Take the higher of the two and add 5 dB. 30 plug with 20 muff gives an effective NRR of 35.

If you are shooting by yourself, with plugs and muffs on, you get to shoot up to a thousand rounds without damage (louder ammo/gun and the allowable drops by a factor of 5). Shoot with other people and you have to add all the rounds shot cumulatively (10 people shoot 100 rounds and everybody's done for the day; toss a handcannon or 30 cal rifle in and you're back down to 200 rounds cumulative). If you shoot on an indoor range then all the rounds fired while you are on the range go into your total. So you can see that it doesn't take very long on a range to have a thousand rounds popped off around you.

Don't forget about bone conduction of concusive sound waves. The mastoid bone will transmit the sound vibrations directly to you inner ear where the cochela and the hearing nerves resides. Constant exposure to this kind of concusive sound waves, ie: 50 BMG, industrial heavey machinery, will result in the degradation of your hearing quality. Even with ear muffs, bone conduction is a big factor in hearing.
I wasn't going to post anything, just sitting here in Kabul checking out THR. I got up to open a window, sat down and BOOM!:eek: Something just blew up near the camp. Didn't ring my ears but I thought it was funny that it happened while I was actualy on this post! It was a BIP (blown in place) they said on the radio.

he's not just being facetious?

I started hunting/shooting before hearing protection. We'd maybe stuff cotton in our ears but usually not. We felt like we just "got used to the noise."

Whenever a bunch of old timers got together, outsiders wondered how come we were yelling at each other.
Couldn't resist. My great great grandfather (my family tends to have children late - looong generations) was a soldier in the Prusian Army, back in the formation fire days - he was deaf in one ear and he claimed that it was because the fellow who fired over his shoulder regularly held too close to his ear. I suspect that hard of hearing veterans are common since the exploitation of gunpowder.
What I have been told is that when hunting, you adrenaline is running, and the blood flow or somesuch changes in your ears that help protect it from damage (much as most other adrenaline reactions or other bodily reactions to stimili is designed to protect your body), that seems true enough to me. That being said, it seems to only be good for a couple of shots, and some things will overpower that (like a fellow I know who had a 16 inch .270, it hurt my ears from ten feet behind while wearing plugs and earmuffs).

However, military operations, and industrial/commercial activities are full of constant noise that can also damage hearing, the damage mechanism being somewhat different. The safety guys tell us that you can even damage your hearing mowing the lawn, or driving with the windows down, etc. I think general rifle fire is not as bad as some of these things, since for most it is not an everyday activity. Being around generators, airplanes, tanks, flowing water, etc can be an all day every day type of thing. And really big noises, like artillery, I think also does pressure damage to the rest of your body as well.

Anyway, for me it seems to mostly be okay, I used to have very sensitive hearing in the high freqs (could hear vcr humming from across the room, etc) and used to have daily headaches. Then I started shooting, and damaged my hearing to the point where it was only just really good, and the headaches stop. Now its good in high, but worse in low, with occasional very minor ringing. I have a hard time hearing males talk in a crowded room for example, or people whispering. Also, it went down a notch in my right ear when someone fired an M4 in line with my ear. But it works for me, when a pretty lady talks to me I tell them I am deaf and they lean in a bit more! The other side effect is that I find people with voices like Fran Drescher appealing because I can understand what they are saying. When I was around artillery or other loud/constant noise I always wore good hearing protection.

I think its pretty common for .mil people to have hearing problems, but it is not as bad as previous generations that did not have access to hearing protection, and had a macho thing about not using them. But everyone is built differently and is affected differently, and not every military person has a high noise job. I also think people who are unlikely to use hearing protection around weapons are not gonna use it in other noisy situations as well, compounding their damage potential.
The sad fact is that most Americans have lost a significant amount of their hearing by the time they are 18 !! That due primaerily to listening to rock 'music' at very high decibel rate. The Swedish navy had a hard time finding youngsters that had good enough hearing to operate the sonar !!
The sad fact is that most Americans have lost a significant amount of their hearing by the time they are 18 !! That due primaerily to listening to rock 'music' at very high decibel rate.

That would be me. :uhoh: I love loud noises. I still play my music loud, esp in the car. I used to stand in front of the amp stacks in rock clubs. I adore jet noise, fireworks, and thunder.

And yeah, I'm sure I'm paying for it. I do use ear plugs and good quality (NR33) headphones when shooting tho.
Every two years, my infantry battalionfrom Nam (3/8th Inf,4th Inf Div) has a reunion.The wives get amused at how loud it is due to our hearing losses but they do understand. Sometimes(quite often) I misundestand what she says which creates some interesting conversations. Byron
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