Comparison of muzzle suppression and ear-level hearing protection in firearm use

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2011 Jun;144(6):950-3. doi: 10.1177/0194599811398872. Epub 2011 Feb 24.


Objective: To compare noise reduction of commercially available ear-level hearing protection (muffs/inserts) to that of firearm muzzle suppressors.

Setting: Experimental sound measurements under consistent environmental conditions.

Subjects: None.

Study design and methods: Muzzle suppressors for 2 pistol and 2 rifle calibers were tested using the Bruel & Kjaer 2209 sound meter and Bruel & Kjaer 4136 microphone calibrated with the Bruel & Kjaer Pistonphone using Military-Standard 1474D placement protocol. Five shots were recorded unsuppressed and 10 shots suppressed under consistent environmental conditions. Sound reduction was then compared with the real-world noise reduction rate of the best available ear-level protectors.

Results: All suppressors offered significantly greater noise reduction than ear-level protection, usually greater than 50% better. Noise reduction of all ear-level protectors is unable to reduce the impulse pressure below 140 dB for certain common firearms, an international standard for prevention of sensorineural hearing loss.

Conclusion: Modern muzzle-level suppression is vastly superior to ear-level protection and the only available form of suppression capable of making certain sporting arms safe for hearing. The inadequacy of standard hearing protectors with certain common firearms is not recognized by most hearing professionals or their patients and should affect the way hearing professionals counsel patients and the public.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Threshold
  • Ear Protective Devices*
  • Equipment Design
  • Firearms*
  • Hearing / physiology
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced / etiology
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced / physiopathology
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Military Personnel
  • Noise, Occupational / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / physiopathology
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control*