Hearing Loss: The Unseen Enemy of War

Our military personnel willingly place themselves in harm’s way each and every time they step out onto the battlefield. They anticipate and prepare for the risk from their enemies, but what about the dangers of the battlefield itself? One of their biggest, yet unseen, enemies is the sound of war; in fact, hearing loss and or tinnitus is the most prevalent militaryinjury among returning veterans! A single gunshot from a M16 or M60 produces approximately 150 decibels (dB) of noise, which alone can cause permanent hearing damage. Now imagine being surrounded by the sound of gunfire, the decibel level is off the charts.

Machine gun and artillery fire is only one component to the noise conundrum however. On a flight deck, military personnel are subjected to noise levels exceeding 130 dB, a helicopter is around 100 dB, an exploding grenade is about 160 dB and military vehicles and generators are notoriously loud as well, sometimes in excess of 115 dB. Most of these are everyday sounds our soldiers encounter, and while each one individually can cause permanent hearing loss and tinnitus, when combined it is almost certain to cause some sort of hearing damage.

According to the Hearing Health Foundation, over one million service members have been impacted by tinnitus, hearing loss or other auditory disorders.  The Veterans Administration (VA) reports spending two billion dollars a year for hearing-related disability benefits and that number is expected to rise to five billion dollars within the next five years. The Department of Defense is aware of the problem, and in response they have established a Hearing Center of Excellence. The Hearing Center of Excellence strives to bring awareness to soldiers that hearing loss is an epidemic and that “not all injuries bleed.” It is also recommended that all veterans have a hearing test conducted at regular intervals throughout their military career and beyond so there will be a record of any progressive hearing loss which can be covered under VA benefits.

Military culture has historically undervalued hearing and hearing loss was regarded as a necessary evil as well as the price of war. The military does have hearing protection available to its soldiers, but often times they report that they don’t know where to get their hearing protection or refuse to wear them because they are afraid they will not be able to hear well enough to be alerted to signs of danger. The military is endeavoring to change this perception and emphasizing the importance of utilizing hearing protection to its new and existing soldiers. Prevention is possible, but once the damage is done, it becomes permanent and progressive.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.