Shooting practice at firearm ranges can harm hearing, pregnant women

Science and Health

Due to the increased demand for civilian firearms during the war, the Israel Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (IIOSH) presents safety guidelines at the shooting range that every firearm owner must adhere to.

Since October 7, there has been a huge rise in requests from civilians to obtain a firearm license. Alongside the desire to enhance personal security, shooting range exercises may pose various risks to hearing, breathing, and even the health of pregnant women who decide to get a firearm.

During the war, numerous shooting exercises are conducted at ranges to maintain the readiness of security and patrol forces, as well as individuals in various roles, and volunteers in institutions, authorities, and the public.

The noise from machine guns and rifles, characterized by very high audio levels of around 160 decibels, has the potential to cause irreversible hearing damage – even with a single exposure.

Two harmful factors during firing include lead and noise. The source of lead is ammunition that contains the toxic mineral; these particles released during firing can pose health risks, especially to the respiratory system.

A woman is seen using a gun at Caliber 3’s shooting range. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Shooting without ear protection can damage your hearing

The source of noise is the gunfire itself. High noise levels during firing, when there is no ear protection, can lead to hearing loss. Research and epidemiological evidence indicate that prolonged exposure to high noise levels may result in decreased hearing, increased risk of high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, and changes in the autonomic nervous system – the network of nerves throughout the body that controls unconscious processes like heartbeat and breathing.

In emergency and wartime situations, it is essential to safeguard the health of both the shooting instructor and the public. Therefore, it is crucial to refresh the personal protective measures of the guide and the shooter against exposure to lead and noise.


Instructors and shooting guides who spend extended periods at the range need to use a half-face mask with a particle filter rating of FFP3, according to European standards, or N100, according to American standards.

Earplugs alone are not sufficient for instructors to protect themselves against high noise levels during shooting due to prolonged exposure. They must equip themselves with quality ear protectors providing at least 35 decibels of noise reduction. Additionally, using earplugs that fit into the ear, combined with ear protectors, is recommended to cope with various situations in which the combination of noise intensity and exposure duration can create conditions in which ear protection alone is insufficient.

Another important issue is pregnant or breastfeeding women conducting shooting exercises to obtain a private firearm license. Evidence suggests that exposing a pregnant woman’s abdomen to extremely high-impact noise, (above 155 decibels), may cause harm and hearing loss to the fetus beyond the fifth month of pregnancy, after their auditory organs have developed. Furthermore, lead can enter a newborn’s system through breastfeeding.

Therefore, following the recommendations published in the circular of the National Health Council of the Health Ministry on November 23, pregnant women are urged not to participate in shooting exercises from the 24th week of pregnancy, and to use personal protective measures before this date.

Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers training at open or closed shooting ranges, accompanied by forced ventilation, must protect themselves with respirators having the same ratings as those for shooting instructors, and quality ear protectors to guard against noise.

It is known that contaminating skin with lead and failing to maintain personal hygiene can bring about lead exposure through ingestion. Therefore, it is recommended to wear long clothing (a shirt and pants) and a head covering. Further, avoiding eating, drinking, and smoking in the shooting range area is recommended, alongside a thorough hand-washing before handling food.

In addition, using protective goggles for eye protection as well as showering and washing clothes after the shooting range session is advised. Another recommendation is to use ammunition with a primer that does not contain lead, and with a bullet that is encased in a copper jacket.

Dr. Miki Winkler, the director-general of IIOSH, summarized that “the goal is to maintain personal and family safety. Responding to events in civilian spaces has led to an increase in requests for firearm licenses during wartime. Those applying for licenses and those holding firearm licenses must be aware of the safety risks to their health. Prolonged exposure to high-impact noise, especially for pregnant women, may lead to irreversible hearing damage and risks to the fetus,” he said.

“We invite all pregnant women, citizens, range managers, and shooting instructors to seek assistance from the Israel Police instructors, and ensure the preservation of their occupational health during shooting exercises at the range.”