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Loud Noise Common in Military

“Noise-induced hearing loss is a major preventable disease.” You can suffer hearing loss from “an acute exposure to an intense impulse of sound or by a continuous steady-state long-term exposure with sound pressure levels higher than 75–85 dB.” (1)

When you serve in our military, loud noise is commonplace. However, the protective gear you are provided with should work properly, for all the duties you are expected to perform. This includes training exercises and active service.

Military Hearing Loss Stats

“Noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus remain the second most prevalent service-connected disabilities.” This prevalence of both hearing loss and tinnitus is greater among military personnel than it is among the general population. (2)

“As of fiscal year 2020, more than 1.3 million Veterans were receiving disability compensation for hearing loss, and more than 2.3 million received compensation for tinnitus.” (3)

The two most common service-related disabilities for U.S. veterans at the end of one fiscal year were, as usual, tinnitus and hearing loss. Tinnitus affected 9.7%, or 115,638 veterans. Hearing loss affected 5.8%, or 69,326 veterans. (4)

What Is Considered Good Hearing in the Military?

Anyone wishing to enter the military must pass a hearing test. You don’t need exceptional hearing, but you do need to be able to perceive sounds without the use of special devices. (5)

Current standards for all military branches require: (6)

  • “A hearing threshold level in either ear of greater than a pure tone of 500, 1,000, and 2,000 cycles per second for each ear of not more than 30 decibels with no individual level of greater than 35 dB at those frequencies.”
  • “The test measures your hearing levels at 500, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, and 4,000 cycles per second at varying decibel levels.”

The government averages the decibel levels and provides you with a score on the exam: (7)

  • Normal Hearing: 0-20 dB.
  • Mild Hearing Loss: 20-40 dB.
  • Moderate Hearing Loss: 40-60 dB.
  • Severe Hearing Loss: 60-80 dB.
  • Profound Hearing Loss: Greater than 80 dB.

“The military accepts anyone that falls in or below moderate hearing loss with a threshold of 60 dB.” (8)

Why Is Good Hearing So Important in the Military?

In the military, being able to hear is critical. Soldiers need to be able to speak and be understood for everyone’s safety. Any hearing loss brought about from excessive noise significantly affects a soldier’s actions and choices in combat. (9)

“Hearing acuity is a key component of a soldier’s effectiveness in the battlefield.” Tinnitus and hearing loss can “significantly impair a soldier’s ability to hear important acoustic cues or communication signals” from members of their own unit or enemy forces. (10)

Military personnel are regularly exposed to high noise levels. And you don’t have the option of walking away from noisy environments. You are expected to complete specific tasks and missions whether those tasks are noisy or not. Quality hearing protection devices, along with follow-up audiological tests, are all you have to prevent significant, life-long noise-induced hearing loss. (11)

Preventing Military Hearing Loss

The Department of Defense’s Hearing Center of Excellence is striving to “prevent hearing loss among Warriors and Service members, and Veterans.” One of its aims is to have “tools in place to monitor the effectiveness of prevention and treatment measures.” (12)

They offer these tips for hearing loss prevention: (13)

  • Know the noise levels and wear appropriate protection devices in environments where noise is 85 dB or higher.
  • Use products and devices with limited noise output whenever possible.
  • Reduce your exposure to noise.
  • Give your ears a rest.

The best way to avoid developing noise-induced hearing loss is to wear protective devices that function appropriately, such as earplugs, since you cannot always stay away from environments exceeding 80 to 85 decibels. (14)

What Causes Military Hearing Loss?

“Experts estimate that noise levels above 105 decibels can damage hearing, if endured for more than 15 minutes each week. Keep in mind that even noise levels between 85 and 90 decibels can cause permanent damage with extended exposure.” (15)

Hearing loss can occur after just one single loud blast. “The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for hearing loss to occur.” The longer you are exposed, the greater the risk you face of sustaining hearing loss. (16)

Rifles, pistols, shotguns, hand grenades, and light anti-tank weapons all produce high levels of noise: above 151 peak sound pressure level range (dB). (17)

Types of Military-Related Hearing Problems

Out of the approximately 18 million veterans in the United States in 2018, 25% had a service-connected disability. Hearing loss and tinnitus are two of the most common service-connected disabilities. (18)

Tinnitus is often described as a ringing in the ears. Some people experience it more as a roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. (19)

Hearing Damage Can be Permanent

Acoustic trauma can occur when you are exposed to a high-level, short duration of noise louder than 140 dB. Acoustic noise physically damages delicate tissues and cells inside your ear, including your sensory cells. The maximum sound pressure level (SPL) matters more than how long you were exposed. You can suffer immediate and permanent hearing loss. (20)

“Long term exposure to low level noise damages the cochlea metabolically rather than mechanically,” or physically. Intensity of sound plays a major role in hearing damage. (21)

Time between noise exposure also plays a role in how your hearing is damaged. “Outer hair cells immediately start dying during the initial acoustic insult and continue to do so for at least 30 days” afterwards. (22)

If you are exposed to intense sound, your auditory thresholds could become elevated permanently. The damage you experienced can be irreversible. (23)

Symptoms and Signs

These signs or symptoms may indicate you have noise-induced hearing loss or tinnitus: (24)

  • Speech and other sounds seem muffled.
  • You have problems hearing high-pitched sounds like birds or telephones.
  • You have trouble understanding conversations when you are somewhere noisy, like a restaurant.
  • You have difficulty understanding speech over the phone.
  • You find yourself asking people to speak more slowly, clearly, or loudly, or to repeat what they just said.
  • You need to turn up the volume of your radio or television.
  • You experience ringing in your ears.
  • You find certain sounds painful to listen to because your hearing is hypersensitive.
  • You struggle to hear certain speech consonants and telling them apart, for example, s and f, p and t, or sh and th.

Testing for Hearing Loss

If you think you have suffered noise-induced hearing loss because of your service in the military, you may seek help from an audiologist. An audiologist may conduct these types of tests: (25)

  • Otoscopy.
  • Acoustic immittance procedures — including tympanometry, static immittance, and acoustic reflex measures.
  • Otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) screening.
  • Pure-tone audiometry (air conduction, bone conduction).
  • Speech audiometry in quiet and in noise (for example, speech thresholds, word recognition measures, speech-in-noise [SIN] tests).
  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) and threshold estimation.

Hearing Loss Treatment Options

Often, tinnitus can’t be cured. Your doctor may suggest treatments to help make your symptoms less bothersome. Certain kinds of electronic devices may help suppress the noise you experience inside your ears: (26)

  • White noise machines — These devices produce sounds like static, ocean waves, or falling rain. The white noise from other devices such as fans and air conditioners may also help lessen the annoyance of tinnitus.
  • Masking devices — You wear these devices in your ear. They produce a continuous, low-level white noise intended to alleviate your tinnitus symptoms.

In most cases of noise-induced hearing loss, the only option is hearing aids. If your hearing loss worsens over time, your doctor may recommend a cochlear implant. (27)

Military Hearing Loss Lawsuits

If you served in any branch of the military and now have to live with hearing loss or ringing in your ears, you may be eligible to participate in Weitz & Luxenberg’s 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs lawsuits.

The 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs you were issued were supposed to provide two levels of hearing protection, depending on the setting you used. “Closed” was supposed to protect you from all loud sounds. “Open” was supposed to allow for limited ambient hearing.

We have since learned these earplugs were too short and could not be inserted properly in the ear canal. The seal protecting your ears could break. You could have been subjected to dangerous noise levels.

We are filing lawsuits on behalf of injured clients. So far, law firms have won several cases, including punitive damages, for their clients. More suits are scheduled to go to trial later in 2022.

How Can W&L Help?

Weitz & Luxenberg is currently accepting cases involving military personnel and veterans suffering from hearing loss or constant ringing in your ears. The injuries happened because you used defective 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs during your military service between 2003 and 2015.

Our dedicated team of attorneys has decades of experience representing clients harmed by defective products. As a national personal injury law firm, our attorneys have secured billions of dollars in settlements and verdicts on behalf of our clients.

Our successes include:

  • $1 billion+ settlement — W&L helped reach a settlement for failed Stryker’s Rejuvenate and ABGII modular hip implants on behalf of our clients who needed to undergo hip revision surgery.
  • $2.5 billion settlement — W&L helped achieve a settlement for failed DePuy hip implants on behalf of thousands of patients who needed these implants removed and surgically replaced.