Noise-Induced Hearing Loss and Tinnitus: Challenges for the Military

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Abstract

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and tinnitus present special challenges for the military. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and the civilians who serve beside them are exposed to noise levels that are higher than most individuals in industrial operations, putting them at increased risk of hearing loss. Yet these military populations rely on their hearing to a much greater extent than others do. Not only do military personnel, and their civilian counterparts serving in training and combat environments, require hearing for clear communication, but they also need their hearing for optimal survival and lethality. The dangers of miscommunication on the battlefield are clear. For example, imagine hearing “Attack!” instead of “Get back!” in the middle of a firefight. Indeed, the U.S. Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned concluded that command and control during the battle of Fallujah was significantly degraded when exposure to high-intensity combat operations caused NIHL (Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned 2005). Although many military troops and government civilians are not directly involved in firing upon and defeating the enemy, many serve in the same noise hazardous environments as these war fighters, both during training and in combat theaters. This chapter focuses on military-specific noise exposure, the effects of NIHL and tinnitus on military operations, hearing conservation programs within the military, and future directions for NIHL and tinnitus research specific to our military and the civilians who support them.