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Mayo urges hunters to protect hearing

As people celebrate the start of the pheasant hunting season with Gov. Tim Walz this weekend, Mayo Clinic is reminding hunters to take care when it comes to their hearing.

The Centers for Disease Control states that 17 percent of adults have noise induced hearing loss and much of that is related to shooting firearms.

Dr. Sarah Blue, audiologist for Mayo Clinic

Dr. Sarah Blue, audiologist for Mayo Clinic based in Rochester, said that while there is no way to treat hearing loss, it doesn’t mean that steps can’t be taken to prevent it when hunting.

“The best summary for hearing loss from loud noise exposure is that it’s permanent but preventable,” Blue said.

It all comes down to taking steps in order to prevent hearing issues. In the past, a hunter’s chief complaint was a disconnect that hearing protection causes between hunter and habitat.

“First, we’re being louder about, ‘hey, use this.’ We’ve been more active in our education,” Blue said. “Hunters would tell us, ‘I don’t want to wear hearing protection because I can’t hear the world around me.’ But now there is active electronic hearing protection, which activates when there is a loud sound. There are more options.”

Hearing loss isn’t something that can happen overnight. Firearms reach decibel levels of between 140-165, according to Mayo Clinic numbers. Maximum job-noise exposure by law for 115 decibels is only 15 minutes.

In each ear there are 15,000 sensory cells, known as hair cells, which are pivotal to hearing. These are broken into two kinds — about 12,000 outer hair cells and 3,500 inner hair cells.

Each time a gun is fired, some of those cells are damaged.

“We have over 15,000 sensory cells in the ear,” Blue said. “There is physical damage to those sensory cells, but there are so many that right away you don’t notice. By the time you’ve noticed it’s too late.”

“I want hunters to have protection when firing or anytime they are firing a gun,” Blue added.