Open Mouths Versus Explosions

Recently I spent a delightful vacation in Alicante,Spain, which was celebrating Hogueras de San Juan.  The festival involves things which are on fire and go boom, it was fabulous.

Explosions in Alicante


While observing the fireworks and listening to the booms I was told that to protect my hearing, I should leave my mouth open.  This did not seem terribly effective, so I did research, and by research I mean I searched for sources online.

From places like quora and reddit, I have found that people are recommending leaving the mouth open to equalize pressure and protect hearing. I cannot find a single actually reliable medical source and study investigating this hypothesis.  Keeping one’s mouth open to protect hearing is not in the CDC recommendations for hearing protection.  As far as reddit commenters assuming that this is military recommendation to protect hearing, well maybe, but given that hearing damage to veterans is a known problem my guess is that leaving one’s mouth open all the time isn’t all that effective against the damage caused by a grenade shockwave.  Of course, it only takes one grenade to catch someone off guard with the mouth closed, so maybe it is effective and people just don’t leave their mouths open all the time because it can cause dehydration and bug consumption. Though both of those could be mitigated by surgical masks. At any rate I am very skeptical that against an explosive shock wave, if you are close enough to the center to rupture an ear drum, and open mouth would save the ear drum.   I would just assume the shock wave is traveling too fast for a measure like an open mouth to equalize pressure fast enough, but I think I need the Mythbusters to test this. How does one even test this?  Clearly using actual humans would be unethical but can dummies or balloons replicate the human circulatory and auditory systems well enough?

At any rate, I recommend going with medically recommended hearing protection unless we get some peer reviewed studies saying leaving one’s mouth open is sufficient hearing protection against explosions.  Pray to god for polio victims, but also vaccinate.  Leave your mouth open when near artillery, but also use hearing protection.

featured image credit: Marissa Anderson via flicker

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

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