The boom in audiology in the 1940s is a direct result of an overwhelming number of combat veterans returning from World War II reporting a substantial hearing loss. The advancements in warfare technology meant louder military environments than previously experienced.

Unfortunately, further advancements and expansion of these technologies over the ensuing decades have done nothing but increase the rates of noise-induced hearing loss for military personnel.

Noise-induced hearing loss

Most commonly associated with loud professions, noise-induced hearing loss affects people from all walks of life. Anyone exposed to a dangerous noise level over an extended period runs the risk of damaging the sensitive systems responsible for conducting healthy hearing, from construction workers to professional musicians. Our society amplifies the risk of this by continuously producing situations in which noise is increasingly loud. Even our kids are potentially exposing themselves to noise-induced hearing loss because of smartphone volume and the propensity to wear headphones.

To put things into perspective, our ears can spend up to 8 hours a day in a somewhat noisy environment without any risk of hearing loss. Noises that register around 85 decibels, including daily situations such as sitting in a crowded restaurant, are perfectly acceptable. The danger becomes present when noises begin to exceed these levels, and they often do. A lawnmower or a loud rock concert is a common listening scenario of daily life that regularly tops out at 90 or even 115 decibels.

Noise-induced hearing loss and the military
The dangers of noise-induced hearing loss are considerable for military personnel. There’s the situation that immediately comes to mind, such as one rapid and a loud explosion. However, beyond encountering an exploding bomb, many less dramatic dangerous noise scenarios permeate the profession.

People serving in our military often do the arduous and repetitive work of repairing engines, working aboard a ship or on a flight line or operating heavy equipment. Their proximity to powerfully loud engines for long bouts of time carries a high cost. In an inherently dangerous environment, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss is a lesser priority. And while controls are implemented when possible, there’s only so much that can be done to suppress the noise of a jet engine.

Protection against hearing loss
According to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 16.4 to 26.6 percent of male veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have significant hearing loss and tinnitus. According to the same study, 7.3 to 13.4% of female veterans have hearing loss. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has consistently reported that tinnitus and hearing loss is the number one and two most common injuries of service members.

One way to combat hearing damage is by providing earplugs, which the military does in spades. A pair of foam earplugs, a simple but effective solution, can reduce noise levels by tens of decibels. This successfully brings dangerously loud noise levels down to levels that are sustainable for the human ear.

However, the earplug solution is only successful when the earplugs are being worn. The protection is great, but it’s well known that soldiers won’t wear them on the battlefield. While the earplugs prevent dangerously loud sounds from reaching their ears, it also silences this essential sense when every moment could be fatal and every sound of importance.

Thankfully, the protective systems available are getting higher-tech. A new device called TCAPS (Tactical Communication and Protective Systems) can be worn internally as earbuds or externally as earmuffs. It intends to protect hearing without eradicating essential sounds needed to survive in a combat environment. TCAPS uses sophisticated technology to lower the intensity of high decibel sound and heighten softer sounds. This allows for the wearer to be protected from noise-induced hearing loss without sacrificing awareness of their surroundings.

Veterans Affairs

Veterans who served before the existence of TCAPS are likely to experience hearing loss due to their service. The best way to mitigate damage is by tapping into services and resources geared towards military personnel.

We are proud to provide comprehensive hearing tests and hearing aid fittings to our community members. Schedule regular hearing tests to get an accurate read on your hearing health. Contact us today to make an appointment!