Filed under: Hearing
Veterans who served in the U.S. and abroad between September 2001 and March 2010 were four times more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing loss. In fact, two of the most common disabilities affecting service members today are hearing loss and tinnitus, says the Hearing Center of Excellence (HCoE). Hearing loss and tinnitus seriously impact force readiness as well as the emotional and social well-being of those affected.
However, not all hearing loss results from the noise pollution Warfighters experience in the field. Many everyday exposures, such as your MP3 player or loud music in your car, can be just as damaging as firearms or helicopters. To maintain good hearing and operational readiness, Warfighters must use safe listening practices at all times. HCoE recommends these safe listening practices:
- Never listen to your MP3 player at maximum volume.
- Following the “60:60” rule: 60 percent maximum volume on your MP3 player for no more than 60 minutes a day.
- Take periodic breaks of 15–20 minutes when listening to loud music to allow your ears to recover.
- Select headphones or earbuds designed to remove background noise.
- Exercise caution when listening to music in the car. Listening in a confined space increases the risk of hearing damage.
- Wear hearing-protection devices such as earplugs at concerts, sporting events, parades, and other high-noise situations.
For more information on how to protect your hearing, as well as treatment and rehabilitation for hearing loss, please read this article from HPRC and visit HCoE.
Hearing is usually one of those abilities we take for granted—until we lose it. Make sure your children know the importance of hearing, and help them by encouraging healthy hearing habits. Just like helping them make healthy food choices or exercise, you can help your kids learn healthy hearing habits. The Department of Defense has a Hearing Center of Excellence that does research and provides educational information on the importance of hearing for optimal performance. Last month they wrote a blog on nurturing healthy hearing habits in your children that offers the following three tips:
- Talk to children about the importance of protecting their hearing in their everyday lives. Awareness of noise pollution is the first step towards a lifetime of healthy hearing.
- Make it fun. HCE has links to online tools such as an interactive sound ruler, games, and videos. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a fun “Noise Meter.”)
- Make it a family affair; discuss how you deal with noise and demonstrate what you do to protect your own hearing, such as turning down the sound on video games and MP3 players. Your children will follow your example.
If you instill good hearing habits in your children now, they will be ready as adults to cope with the kinds of noise pollution that have been leading to hearing loss among Warfighters.
Being able to hear well is crucial for a Warfighter, not only for effective communication but also for survival. Noise-related hearing loss, including tinnitus, can be a tactical risk for individual and unit effectiveness. Blast injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), RPGs, and mortar rounds are the largest cause of hearing loss for forces in Iraq. Unfortunately, it has become an "invisible" injury and an accepted outcome of military service. Compensation payments for hearing loss as the primary disability increased 319% between 2001 and 2006. While the military has done extensive research and established standards regarding noise and noise exposure, here are a few things you can do to help minimize the effects of this occupational hazard.
- Wear hearing protectors when firing weapons or traveling in noisy vehicles or aircraft.
- Make sure that earplugs such as combat arms earplugs (CAE) fit properly to protect your hearing and still communicate effectively.
- Replace lost or damaged hearing protectors as soon as possible.
- Limit exposure to “annoying noise” during normal daily activities. Trying to ignore noise can increase heart rate and blood pressure, cause sleep difficulties, and lead other negative health consequences.
- Report any signs of hearing loss as soon as possible.
While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are treatments available. Noise pollution may be an inevitable part of serving in the military, but it doesn’t have to leave you with a permanent reminder. Do what you can to help hold on to your hearing.
The DoD Hearing Center of Excellence is committed to preventing, treating, and rehabilitating hearing loss and auditory injury for service members and veterans. The HCE offers evidence-based clinical care in collaboration with other organizations and Centers of Excellence to improve quality of life and raise awareness about noise pollution and occupational safety.
On September 11, join an online webinar, Can You Hear Me? An Introduction to Hearing Loss Prevention, sponsored by the CDC, to discuss the primary causes of hearing loss, and learn how to prevent it. This educational event is free; however, there are a limited number of open lines, so log in early.