Hearing loss is often preventable. Proper fitting and consistent wearing of hearing protective devices (HPDs) help prevent hearing loss and tinnitus. Noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are the top two health conditions among military veterans. In 2016, Veterans Affairs had 1,610,911 compensation receipts for tinnitus and 1,084,069 for hearing loss. Additionally, many Veterans who score normally on hearing tests have trouble understanding speech. This condition, called auditory processing disorder, is associated with blast exposure.
Military personnel commonly experience these disorders after exposure to loud noise, such as working in an airplane hangar, or exposure to high-intensity noise, such as an explosion. There is a misconception hearing protection inhibits vital communication and mission readiness. With today’s increasingly sophisticated technology, soldiers do not have to choose between protecting their ears or their lives.
Below are some of Hearing Health Foundation's suggestions for hearing protective devices (HPDs) that protect without compromising safety:
Earplugs: Traditional earplugs effectively prevent hazardous noise from entering the ear canal, but they can interfere with mission communication requirements, such as being able to hear speech or low-level combat sounds.
Level-dependent earplugs however use a filter that enables soft noises to be conveyed at full strength yet eliminate high-frequency or impulse noise. Level-dependent earplugs are easily transportable, but should be used in combination with other devices when operating aircraft or combat vehicles.
Earmuffs: Earmuffs block sound by creating an airtight barrier around the entire ear, and are best used for intermittent exposure to noise. Earmuffs provide great protection, warmth, comfort, and durability than earplugs. Although they block softer sounds including speech, some military-grade earmuffs contain an electronic communication system to allow for clear communication.
Noise-Attenuating Helmets: Noise-attenuating helmets protect from hearing loss, crash impact, and eye injury while increasing communication through radio communication. Technologically advanced helmets include active noise-reducing technology to monitor sound energy around the ear and cancel unwanted noise while preserving verbal communication ability. A communications earplug microphone can also be worn to enhance verbal clarity.
Suppressors: In 2017 the U.S. Marines began using suppressors on service weapons. While they don’t completely drown out gunfire, they can reduce noise by more than 30 decibels. Suppressors offer tactical and medical advantages.