By Kirk Frady, Army Medicine Public Affairs May 2, 2013
According to the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence, more than 350,000 service members have reported tinnitus (ringing in the ear/s) following redeployment from the Gulf War conflicts, and over 250,000 have reported hearing loss during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
As Better Hearing and Speech Month is recognized nationally during the month of May, it is important
to note that the military introduced audiology care. It resulted from a need to rehabilitate troops returning from World Wars I and II with hearing loss. The professions of speech pathology and audiology were closely associated during World War II due to the overlapping mission of providing services to hearingimpaired service members.
According to Lt. Col. Kristen Casto, audiology staff officer for the Office the Army Surgeon General, "In order to help Soldiers deal with hearing and speech problems, Army Medicine is
currently engaged in a range of research initiatives to combat hearing loss and tinnitus." She added, "Research is being conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of hearing protective devices and
communication systems and to develop ways to maximize their benefits to Soldiers. Studies are also being conducted to identify early indicators of hearing loss, so that measures to prevent hearing loss and tinnitus can be implemented early."
Dr. Josh Bernstein, research audiologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC),
notes that, "Research is being conducted to understand how hearing loss and hearing protective
devices affect a Soldier's ability to communicate in noise as well as to performance in general." The research team at WRNMMC is studying how tinnitus may affect communication and, if appropriate,
treatment will improve communication ability. WRNMMC is also investigating the benefits of hearing aidsand cochlear implants to service members. While there is often a temporary component, noise-induced auditory injuries sustained inthe military are generally permanent, depending on the intensity of the noise and amount of exposure time to the noise. Auditory injury is an invisible condition that is often viewed as an unavoidable, acceptable consequence of military service, but service-related hearing loss is largely preventable. Most hearing protection, if worn properly during noise-hazardous conditions, is effective in preventing hearing loss.
In addition to on-duty hearing hazards, off-duty noise exposure can cause hearing loss as well. For example, loud music, motorcycles, lawn mowers, and power tools are examples of exposures that can potentially cause Capt. Angela Fulbright, Fort Hood Army hearing program deputy manager, permanent hearing loss.