08 May 2008

American soldiers lose hearing in war with insurgents and terrorists

Hearing damage is the no. 1 disability in the war on terrorism and the Iraq war, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Soldiers and Marines caught in roadside bombings and firefights in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home in epidemic numbers with permanent hearing loss and ringing in their ears.

About 60 percent of American troops exposed to bomb blasts suffer from permanent hearing damage, and 49 percent suffer from tinnitus, according to data compiled by military audiologists.

Roadside bombs, commonly used by insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, are a major cause of hearing damage. The blasts from roadside bombs cause such instantaneous changes in air pressure that eardrums of the soldiers under attack may perforate and bones in their inner ear may break.

The unpredictability of ambushes and other engagements often leaves the soldiers without enough warning to employ their military-issued hearing protection. Some soldiers refuse to use earplugs, as they fear this will affect their hearing and combat awareness to such a degree as to putting themselves and their fellow soldiers in increased danger.

Even the best hearing protection may only offer partial protection in light of the weaponry employed in modern combat. Just the noise of a moving tank can be hearing damaging when soldiers fail to use earplugs. The noise level of a moving tank is about 80-85 dB, while noise levels from explosions or firefights may reach as high as 180 dB. No hearing protection offers reliable protection against such noise levels, as the best protection provides noise reduction of up to 25 dB.

The high number of hearing injuries in American soldiers was unanticipated by military medical specialists and outside experts. The U.S. military has responded by taking various precautions in order to better protect the hearing of the soldiers.

Sources: Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com), 28 March 2008; The New York Daily News (http://www.nydailynews.com), 28 March, 2008.

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