Most shooters probably experience tinnitus at some point. Tinnitus is the ringing in the ears after being exposed to loud noises like gunfire. These noises damage the sensitive parts of the inner ear and cause the ringing. Tinnitus can be a bellwether of longer-term damage, too.


What is Tinnitus?

The main tinnitus symptom is phantom noises in the ears. Though this is commonly described as “ringing” in the ears, tinnitus symptoms may also be experienced as roaring, hissing, or buzzing sensations. Again, tinnitus happens after exposure to loud noises including loud music. It can be caused by acute, loud sounds like gunfire, or through prolonged exposure to noises that don’t seem that loud, like lawnmowers and chainsaws.

Everyone has experienced this ringing sound at some point. When the author was a kid, hearing protection, unfortunately, wasn’t even considered when planning a trip to the range, so each range session was followed by prolonged bouts of tinnitus. Fortunately, the value of hearing protection is much more widely known and accepted these days, and hopefully far fewer people are being exposed to gunfire, unprotected.

Still, gunfire can exceed the safe limits of some hearing protection. A common phenomenon among shooters is known as shooter’s ear. Shooter’s ear is reduced hearing and/or tinnitus in the shooter’s off-side ear. This is because he or she presents that ear closer to the gunfire when shooting, typically the left ear. You should take steps to avoid this with adequate ear protection. We will talk about hearing protection, but first let’s explore tinnitus symptoms a bit more deeply.


Why Are My Ears Ringing After Shooting?

When what is perceived as an intangible sound hits the ears, they are actually being confronted with physical waves of pressure. This causes movement of three tiny bones in the inner ear (the stirrup, hammer, and anvil) and hairs along the ear canal. Loud noise exposure can even damage the auditory nerve. All of this results in the interpretation of sound in a form that our brains can understand.

Unfortunately, sounds that are too loud are like an assault on our ears. Sounds that are too loud can cause permanent damage to the sensitive portions of the middle and inner ear, as well as the auditory nerve that carries electrical signals to your brain.

Hearing loss may be temporary or permanent. Sometimes tinnitus is the result of a recoverable injury to the ear. After several days it may go away, but it should serve as a warning to protect your hearing in the future. Permanent hearing loss is just that – permanent – and there are very few treatment options after the physical structures of the ear have been damaged. For many years I have been reading about potential cures for hearing loss in development but to my knowledge none have panned out.  This is why it is so incredibly important to protect your hearing before it is damaged! Wearing some ear plugs or muffs for the few hours  you are on the range is preferable wearing hearing aids for the next 30 or 40 years.


Risks of Tinnitus After Shooting Firearms

Tinnitus probably seems like not a big deal if you don’t have it. So, your ears ring a little – don’t everyone’s from time-to-time? Everyone’s ears probably do ring a little, from time-to-time, as when sitting quietly in a quiet room. Chronic tinnitus is different in a couple of key ways.

First, it can be frustratingly loud. This is not the typical, quiet room syndrome. Tinnitus can be “loud” enough to be noticed even in relatively noisy environments and it can cause a number of problems. Many of these problems are exacerbated when coupled with even moderate hearing loss.

Some of these problems are short-term and some are long-term. Since many of these problems (sleep loss and depression, for instance) are interrelated, we will avoid trying to separate them. Instead, we will attempt to point out correlations where they occur.


Discomfort: Tinnitus can come and go, and its severity can seem to vary to the person afflicted with it. Chronic tinnitus can actually be fairly uncomfortable. Over the short term this is bearable but as time goes on this discomfort has a multiplicative effect and is certainly unpleasant.


Difficulty Concentrating: The constant ear ringing of tinnitus can make it difficult to focus, especially on tedious tasks in a quiet environment. Imagine trying to write an article, like this one, with a loud, unrelenting noise happening, inside your head. It definitely adds a layer of difficulty, this probably doesn’t sound like a huge deal…until you have to deal with it.


Difficulty Sleeping: Tinnitus can also make it harder to go to sleep. The constant, irritating noise can be a big distraction when trying to fall asleep. Since sleep generally happens in quiet environments, the distraction from tinnitus can be especially pronounced. Sleep being incredibly important to all aspects of your health from your cardiovascular health to the strength of your immune system to your mental health to your body’s insulin sensitivity, this is hugely problematic. The ripples of lost sleep effect show up in your health, relationships, work productivity and more.


Stress & Anxiety: Discomfort, difficulty concentrating, and a chronic, ongoing loss of sleep can increase your stress and anxiety levels. This can create a vicious cycle, because stress and anxiety can also cause difficulty concentrating and contribute to sleep loss (thus the bi-directional relationship between stress and sleep loss).


Noise Induced Hearing Loss: Tinnitus can be a warning of impending hearing loss. Hearing loss is damaging in a number of ways, including causing isolation and depression. Hearing loss is also critical to your daily function. Being unable to hear a timer for the stove, for instance, has potentially serious negative consequences. Loss of hearing can disqualify you for certain jobs, and it has a huge negative impact on your situational awareness.


Isolation: Having tinnitus, especially in combination with hearing loss, can be isolating. Having to continually ask people to repeat themselves can make you feel as though you are perceived as less intelligent. This is especially prevalent in social situations with lots of background noise. Missing verbal cues can make you appear to be rude to others when you fail to respond. All this can impact your relationships with all but the most understanding and compassionate of friends and family. Tinnitus and hearing loss truly no laughing matter.

It is important to point out that not everyone will experience these effects, but they aren’t exactly uncommon. It’s safe to say that people with tinnitus – and especially tinnitus that progresses to hearing loss – will experience some of these symptoms. However, over 15% of the world’s population suffers from tinnitus and long-term hearing damage.


Is Tinnitus Temporary?

Tinnitus is caused when the tiny hair cells on the cochlea of the inner ear are damaged. These tiny hair cells are critical to being able to perceive sound, and have some ability to self-repair. Mild tinnitus causes an insult to these hairs that is recoverable. As they repair themselves the tinnitus subsides, generally over 16-48 hours or so. 

This is not always the case, however. Permanent tinnitus is tinnitus that has caused permanent damage to these hairs. Once they have been damaged to the point that they cannot grow back and repair themselves the tinnitus is permanent, with almost no treatment options. Keep in mind, though, that even temporary tinnitus should serve as a warning to avoid or reduce such noise exposure in the future by using appropriate hearing protection.


Tinnitus in Kids

Tinnitus can affect both young and old which is why it is so important to make sure your kids wear hearing protection when they go to the range with you or at music events or to the races or even a fireworks show.  Make sure the hearing protection you give to your kids is designed for smaller heads – if it does not fit well it will not prevent hearing damage.  Many kids will not understand if their hearing protection is working well so it is up to you to inspect it to make sure it fits properly and is protecting their ears.


How Hearing Protection Can Help with Tinnitus

Hearing protection places a barrier between the source of the sound wave and your ear canal. Ear protection dampens the waves that enter your ear canal, preventing injury to the delicate structures of the middle and inner ears. This prevents tinnitus and hearing loss by reducing the traumatic impact imparted to these structures. This prevents them from having to heal, and prevents those unhealable injuries.

Your hearing is one of the most important of your five senses for day-to-day function in the world. Though it is certainly possible to live without hearing (or with reduced hearing), trust us, you’d greatly prefer to maintain your current level of hearing for as long as possible. Using high-quality hearing protection while exposed to loud noises is one of the surest ways to do this. Also keeping in mind that there’s no known cures for Tinnitus, some people have found they can treat it with sound therapy such as white noise. Our Pro Fit custom ear plugs can be programmed with a channel for white noise.


Why Pro Ears?

Your hearing is precious. It allows you situational awareness, effortless social interaction, and facilitates human relationships. It is difficult to fully appreciate how important your hearing is until it has been severely reduced or impacted by an injury like tinnitus. And as we have seen, tinnitus can have all sorts of second- and third-order effects on your overall happiness and quality of life. 

The report of firearms and other loud noise exposure WILL cause long-term damage to your hearing. Over enough time that damage will become permanent and once it’s gone, it’s gone. There is no restorative procedure that will return your hearing once it is permanently lost. And likewise with tinnitus. If it does not resolve on its own after a period of a few months (at most), you’re stuck with it.

One reason some shooters give for not wearing hearing protection is that they can’t hear their buddy talking or the range instructor down the line.  Hunter’s often say they do not need to wear it because they only take one (if they are lucky!) or two shots.   That is all it takes to cause permanent damage. A good pair of electronic hearing protectors will allow you to keep those lines of communication open while protecting your hearing.  If they are comfortable you will not mind wearing the ear muffs or earbuds for long periods of time.  At Pro Ears we focus on protection AND comfort.

You should always protect your ears when shooting. Pro Ears offers the absolute best hearing protection on the market, from ear plugs to ear muffs. Your hearing is priceless. You should protect it – and all the health and social aspects that go with it – with the very best ear protection from Pro Ears.