SEMBACH, Germany – May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, which aims to raise awareness concerning disorders of speech, hearing, voice, and language. The Army Hearing Program is committed to hearing loss prevention and reducing noise hazards.Roughly 40 million adults in the United States report difficulty hearing, and the most common cause of hearing loss is noise exposure.“Hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are the top two service-connected injuries in the military,” said Capt. Theresa Galan, the Army hearing program manager at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. “Noise-induced hearing loss is painless, progressive, permanent and nearly always preventable.”The Army Hearing Program works to prevent hearing loss through unit and individual education, hearing protection devices, hearing monitoring services, and range and hazardous noise area inspections.“Noise exposure depends upon the intensity (loudness) of the sound and the duration of time you are exposed,” said Galan.Common sources of noise include weapons, military vehicles, rotary and fixed wing aircraft, ship engine rooms, generators, impact tools, as well as recreational noise exposure, such as lawn care equipment, power tools, and personal listening devices.“There are also military occupational noise exposures we don’t often think about – military band practice rooms and concert halls, kitchens, dental instruments, industrial sewing machine rooms, and server rooms, just to name a few,” said Galan.A three-foot rule can be used as a low-tech approach to determine if a sound is hazardous.“If you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone within three feet of you, then you are in a noise hazardous environment – walk away, turn it down, or wear hearing protection,” said Galan. “Limit your time spent in noise. In you are concerned about your workspace, contact your supervisor.”The safety office or your local hearing program manager can discuss hearing protection needs for units and personnel. These can range from specialty hearing protection for musicians, aviation, or dentists, to standard preformed earplugs, single use foam earplugs, ear muffs, or tactical hearing protection.According to Galan, the most important aspects of hearing protection are that it offers the right amount of protection, it fits the individual properly, and it is worn correctly and consistently.“Hearing loss has a significant impact on the Army, especially combat readiness,” said Galan. “Good hearing is a proven combat multiplier, preserving the lethality and survivability of the war fighter. A Soldier who cannot hear well on today’s high technology battlefield cannot communicate effectively and therefore cannot perform optimally. Additionally, significant hearing loss may negatively impact a service member’s career, making them ineligible for certain schools, positions, or retention.”If you have concerns about your hearing, talk to your primary care manager for a referral to the audiology clinic. Galan noted that early warning signs of noise induced hearing loss include: you can hear people talking, but have difficulty understanding what they are saying; ringing, buzzing or other sounds in the ears; feeling of fullness or muffled hearing following noise exposure.“During the COVID-19 response, most routine appointments are postponed, including hearing conservation and audiology,” said Galan. “However, if you experience a sudden hearing loss, you should call your PCM immediately and contact the audiology clinic. This is considered an urgent appointment.”For more information about audiologists, hearing health, or Better Hearing and Speech Month, visit the websites of the American Academy of Audiology, American Speech Language Hearing Association or the National Hearing Conservation Association.