Hear today, gone tomorrow, or not

By Mrs. Brandy Gill (Army Medicine)May 19, 2011

Hear today, gone tomorrow, or not
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Hear today, gone tomorrow, or not
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FORT HOOD, Texas - It's a quiet day at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's Soldier Readiness Processing Center, and the silence is a welcome change from the normal roar of the crowd of Soldiers passing through on their way to the next conflict.

Despite the quiet there is still a steady flow of Soldiers who have been referred to the Army Hearing Program because of possible hearing loss.

As many as 10 percent of Soldiers screened annually in the AHP may require an additional evaluation by an audiologist, Cpt. Angela Fulbright, deputy chief of the AHP said.

"Most of them will be diagnosed with a permanent hearing loss that rivals that of an elderly adult," she said.

Fulbright said it is astonishing that many Soldiers don't really think about the long-term effects of hearing loss which is usually preventable.

"I have been stationed at Fort Hood for a little over 18 months, and sometimes, I am still amazed by the endless stream of young, healthy Soldiers who have significant hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in their ears) from work exposures," she said. "Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable as demonstrated by the reduction of hearing profiles issued when hearing conservation programs were implemented in the military in the 70's."

According to Fulbright, a 2008 Department of the Army study showed the implementation of hearing conservation programs dropped hearing profiles for active duty enlisted Soldiers in combat arms specialties from a staggering 22 percent to six percent.

Those programs include measuring for noise hazard identification (determining what equipment was hazardous or too loud), applying engineering controls (trying to find ways to make the equipment quieter or to move personnel away from it), issuing hearing protectors (earplugs), monitoring audiometry (annual screenings) and conducting annual health education.

Today, the Army Hearing Program continues to use each aspect of the hearing conservation model with assistance from CRDAMC's Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Health sections of Preventive Medicine and other organizations.

"Yet, despite our best efforts to continue to prevent noise induced hearing loss, tinnitus and hearing loss were the most frequent disabilities awarded by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2006," Fulbright said.

It's tough to convince Soldiers military service, even in combat, does not have to be a prescription for hearing loss when so many of their peers and leaders already have hearing loss.

The reality is it only takes one gun shot, one IED blast, one RPG, or one exposure to hazardous noise without properly fitted hearing protection for permanent damage to occur.

How can we win the hearing battle with such odds' The answer lies in the realization that each of us has a role in preventing noise-induced hearing loss, Brig. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, the 1st Cavalry Division deputy commanding general (maneuver) said.

"Leaders have a responsibility to motivate their Soldiers," he said. "Individuals [Soldiers] have a responsibility to use their hearing protection."

He went on to say decreasing the hearing loss on Fort Hood will require Soldiers to commit to a lifestyle change. They must realize recreational and average daily hazards such as mowing the lawn and listening to loud music can have damaging effects as well.

Although Volesky continues to maintain excellent hearing, his story is not unlike any other Soldier that has faced the devastating effects of noise.

He recalled an experience as a young lieutenant when he was exposed to a tank's main gun blast without hearing protection. He remembers having a dulled sense of hearing and tinnitus following the incident.

"I'm not going to say that I have always done the right thing with wearing hearing protection, but that taught me to use my hearing protection," he said.

More recently, the message hit home when he read about the number of Soldiers who had to be evacuated from theatre due to hearing loss, which can have significant effects on the mission.

Hearing protection has to be a part of the whole picture, a part of the Soldier's arsenal for survival and being lethal, Volesky said.

His suggestion definitely demonstrates the need to provide training in the field, at ranges, during MEDEVAC training, in the tanks, in the motorpool, in HMMWV's, on the flight line, in the dining facility, and wherever else the damaging effects of noise can be felt.

It means that hearing protection measures should be employed as naturally as all other protective measures.

Volesky's story shows that a Soldier can leave his/her military career without a hearing loss simply by employing protective measures.

This is the challenge that Fort Hood's AHP is proposing.

May is recognized as Better Speech and Hearing Month, and Lt. Col. Cheryl Cameron, chief of AHP, and the AHP staff has challenged Fort Hood Soldiers to make it through their military careers without a significant threshold shift, more commonly known as a change in their hearing.

Whether a Soldier is currently suffering from hearing loss or not, today is the day to start working on prevention. Today is the day to realize that noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus are permanent, life changing, conditions that can end a career and be a barrier between loved ones.

As Volesky said in his closing remarks about his own family and reasons for preventing hearing loss, "I certainly would want to be able to hear my 13-year-old."

If you are concerned about hearing loss, want to know more about hearing loss prevention or would like to get information on proper use of hearing protection contact the Hearing Conservation clinic at (254) 553-3097. Walk-in hearing tests are available at Thomas Moore Clinic every Friday after 9 a.m.

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