Hearing Loss In the Military: Bigger Than We Realize

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
January 22, 2013

Have any of you had contact with, or maybe are, a member of the military coming back from combat and dealing with a myriad of challenges?  Some of the invisible barriers include hearing loss and tinnitus.  Recently, NBC published an article about Hearing Loss as the most prevalent injury among returning vets.  A returning vet interviewed in the article stated that his hearing loss and brain injury were the worst of his injuries.

blog about concussions  last year in this section addressed what the injured individual has to deal with and how it can affect their life.  Getting hit while playing football pales in comparison to an IED going off next to you.  There are other noise exposure risks as well. Generators and other units that constantly have to run (and are at a loud level) on bases overseas can also create a hearing loss if the person is exposed to the sound for long periods of time and has to be close to the noise source.  Military personnel are not thinking that hearing loss will be something they have to deal with when they come back home.
How can we help?  It starts with prevention and education.  There is preventive equipment available, but not all soldiers use it, states Capt Latisha Scott who is an audiologist at Fort Bragg.  Once you have the damage to your hearing it can never be repaired so overcoming outdated stereotypes is a goal of the military.  Stereotypes such as hearing protection looks silly, unnecessary or uncomfortable are just not true.  Some soldiers in active combat situations do not wear hearing protection so they can hear the whistle of the mortar shells before they hit.  There is hearing protection available that hunters use to hear soft sounds and cut off the loud impact of gun shots. We should encourage the military to invest in this type of protection and save the cost required to fit hearing aids after a hearing loss has occurred.  Wayne Staab’s blog on Trapshooting covers their commitment to hearing protection.

One of my goals in education focuses on high school aged individuals who will be entering the military as well as their parents who have influence (even though they don’t think they do!) in making suggestions to protect hearing.  I also feel we should make our military and law makers more aware of providing coverage for different types of hearing protection depending on what the active duty personnel’s job is.  There is a little of this depending on the individual military bases.  This is a good resource for those in Nebraska, one of the best state resources that I came across.   David Kirkwood also had a Hearing News Watch in March on how the Marines were stepping up hearing protection.  What are some other ideas?

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  1. The DOD Hearing Center for Excellence is doing a great job of raising awareness and helping to prevent and treat hearing loss in our active military and veterans. Dr. Oghalai, a member of our team, was recently interviewed by WWAY News Channel 3 in North Carolina, in a news story about hearing loss and veterans and the DOD HCE: http://stanford.io/Y48c03

    You can also read more about our research into the blast induced hearing loss here: http://stanford.io/Q8HUKJ

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