LANDSTUHL, Germany -- October is National Hearing Conservation month and nearly 12 million Americans have noise-induced hearing loss as a result of exposure to noise. Military audiologists across the Department of Defense are encouraging Service Members and noise-exposed civilian personnel to protect themselves and reduce their risk of permanent hearing loss.

"Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by damage to the microscopic hair cells found in the cochlea of the inner ear," said Capt. Theresa Galan, manager of the Regional Army Hearing Program. "These hair cells are small sensory cells that convert the sounds we hear, or sound energy, into electrical signals that travel by the hearing nerve to the brain. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot be repaired or grow back, causing permanent hearing loss."

The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels. Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by prolonged exposure to any loud noise over 85 decibels, such as concerts, sporting events, lawnmowers, fireworks, mobile music devices at full volume, and more. A brief exposure to a very intense sound, such as weapons fire, can also damage your hearing. A military vehicle convoy at 40 miles per hour can be as dangerous to your hearing as a short burst of weapons fire without hearing protection -- both time and loudness matter, according to Galan.

An environment is too loud and considered dangerous if you have to shout over background noise to be heard within three feet, it is painful to your ears, or it makes your ears ring during and after exposure.

"If you have decreased or muffled hearing for several hours after exposure, that is a sign of temporary and possibly permanent hearing damage," said Galan. "Consult your local hearing readiness booth to be re-fit with properly fitting earplugs. Your unit Hearing Program Officer or an audiologist can also counsel you regarding additional types of hearing protection that is appropriate for your job duties in hazardous noise."

Hearing loss not only affects one's ability to understand speech, but it also has a negative impact on social and emotional well-being. Noise-induced hearing loss can occur gradually over time. Hearing loss can have a negative impact on a Soldier's military career including restricting eligibility for future schools, reclassification into another military occupation specialty, restrictions on job duties, or separation from the military.

Soldiers and their Family members who suspect potential hearing loss should make an appointment to see an audiologist (a referral from your PCM is necessary).

Galan said there are several ways to reduce the risk of permanent hearing loss.

"People can wear appropriate hearing protection when around sounds louder than 85 decibels for 30 minutes both while on and off duty," she said. "Turning down the volume when listening to the television, radio or whenever you're using earbuds or headphones can also help."

Additionally, Galan pointed out that limiting exposure to loud noises when possible will also help protect against hearing loss.

The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center Hearing Conservation clinic offers unit hearing health education briefings and hearing protection fittings, and can also create ear impressions for custom in-the-ear products like earbuds and swim molds. The clinic also offers consultation for custom hearing protection for individuals, aviation workers, dentists and musicians.

Military leaders are encouraged to contact the Hearing Conservation clinic to schedule unit-size or large group hearing monitoring exams or request support for MAAWS and AT4 weapons ranges.
For more information, contact the Regional Army Hearing Program Manager or the Audiology/ Hearing Conservation Clinic at DSN 314-590-5280.