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Noise-Induced Hearing Damage in the Military

Posted on 02/15/2019

Military personnel, especially those in areas of combat, are frequently exposed to high-intensity noise. Loud noises generated from helicopters, heavy equipment, and weapons exceed safe exposure levels and place individuals at risk for hearing injury. In fact, hearing injuries, such as noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus, are by far one of the leading causes of disability in veterans.

Whether you are a current or former member of the military, it may be highly beneficial to learn about noise-induced hearing damage in the military. To better understand how these hearing afflictions occur, it may be beneficial to partner with a skilled injury attorney and research how hearing works and the potential risks certain noises may present to your hearing.

Auditory Pathways

Sound is a type of energy that travels through air as sound waves. Sound waves can vary in power, intensity, duration, and frequency. Generally, the bigger the sound wave the more energy it carries. Sound waves keep traveling until they run out of energy. If you are within range of sound waves it may be detected by your ears, converted to neural signals, and then sent to the brain to be heard as sound.

Anatomy of the Ear

There are three major parts to the ear: outer ear; the middle ear; and the inner ear.

Outer Ear

Sound waves enter the outer ear and are funneled through a narrow passageway called the ear canal. The ear canal leads to the eardrum. The eardrum separates the external ear from the middle ear. When a sound wave strikes the eardrum, it causes it to vibrate.

Middle Ear

Sound waves are conveyed from the eardrum to a series of tiny ear bones in the middle ear. These bones absorb the vibrations and relay them on to the inner ear.

Inner Ear

The bones in the middle ear convey the sound vibrations to the cochlea of the inner ear. The cochlea is spiral shaped and filled with fluid and fine hair-like sensory cells. These hair cells are highly specific. Each one is responsible for picking up and coding a different sound wave. Once the vibrations from the middle ear hit the inner ear, they stimulate the sensory hair cells, causing them to move, creating a neural signal which is then relayed to the brain via an auditory nerve and translated into sound.

Hearing Damage

In 2017, more than 1.1 million veterans have been diagnosed with service-connected noise-induced hearing loss. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss is a hearing impairment that results from exposure to loud sound. How damaging the sound can be often depends on:

  • How loud the sound is
  • How close you are to the source of the sound
  • How long you are exposed to the sound

Sound is measured in units called decibels. Generally speaking, sounds of less than 75 decibels – even after lengthy exposure – are unlikely to cause hearing damage. However, extended or repeated sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound level, the faster your hearing can be damaged.

A single and short loud blast or explosion of 140 decibels or more – referred to as an impulse or impact sound – can create an intense sound wave the can hit hair cells with enough force to cause them to immediately break. This damage can result in hearing loss or tinnitus. Unfortunately, damage to hair cells is permanent -they do not regenerate.

As a result, it is important for members of the military to use protective gear to reduce noise-induced hearing damage. They are frequently exposed to machinery and vehicles that emit sound well over 85 decibels. These types of machinery and vehicles commonly include a Humvee (90 dB), Chinook Helicopter (100 dB), Abrams Tank (115 dB), M16 Rifle (160 dB), and M72 LAW (180 dB). Unfortunately and in recent times, some equipment was found defective such as the 3M Combat Arms earplugs that allegedly resulted in many military personnel suffering injuries to their hearing.

Tinnitus

While excessive noise exposure frequently induces hearing loss, it also may cause a condition known as tinnitus. Clinically speaking, tinnitus is the perception of sounds in the absence of an external sound source. Someone suffering from tinnitus internally “hears” a sound that is not externally produced – so the sound cannot be heard by anyone else. Most commonly, these phantom “sounds” are described as a:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Whistling
  • Humming
  • Chirping

Nearly 1.6 million veterans have been diagnosed with service-connected tinnitus. In fact, in 2015 alone, over 150,000 veterans were diagnosed with this condition.

Many experience tinnitus for a short time after being exposed to very loud noises. For example, a blast or gunfire may trigger a short-lived bout of tinnitus. However, if significant damage is done, tinnitus symptoms can be permanent and so severe that for many, it can interfere with everyday life. Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus, although certain treatment can help diminish ringing sensations.

Were you issued 3M Combat Arms Earplugs?

If you developed tinnitus or believe you have diminished hearing, it is important to see a medical professional. If you have been diagnosed with tinnitus or hearing damage and served in the military between 2003 and 2015, contact our firm today for a free consultation. Military personnel who were diagnosed with these problems after using the defective 3M Combat Arms earplugs may file eligible to bring a claim against the manufacturer for knowingly supplying the defective earplugs to servicemembers leaving them vulnerable to hearing damage, hearing loss and tinnitus.