January 12, 2009 – Bomb blasts, howling engines, growling generators and the deafening roar of military aircraft have made the war zones noisy enough to damage soldiers’ hearing.
An estimated 25 percent of redeploying soldiers have reported experiencing some change in their hearing, or dizziness or ringing of the ears, according to Army audiologists whose data was gathered from hearing tests done at units and installations after deployments.
The hearing tests are now mandatory in an effort to collect the data from all soldiers and make sure they are fit for duty and get follow-up care if needed. They must take the test as soon as practicable upon redeployment, or as part of their post-deployment health assessment.
Active-duty soldiers are required to have the test no later than six months after redeployment.
For National Guard and Reserve soldiers, the test must take place before they go off active duty.
The guidance was announced Jan. 5 in an all-Army activity message issued by the Army surgeon general’s office.
Soldiers who have complained about hearing loss have been given an audiogram as part of their post-deployment defense occupational environmental health readiness system for hearing conservation.
The post-deployment test for all soldiers, which can also serve as their mandatory annual audiogram, will help identify others who may be unaware of a gradual hearing loss.
The Army is “trying to identify those who may have changes in their hearing and we can make sure they are provided the adequate follow up,” said Col. Kathy Gates, audiology consultant to the Army surgeon general.
The hearing test is also aimed at making sure that soldiers are fit for duty.
“We shoot, move and communicate as an Army, and our communication on the battlefield is actually quite challenging if you take an individual who sustained a mild amount of hearing loss from a deployment. Hearing loss comes on gradually in many instances, and the individual’s not even aware of it,” said Lt. Col. Eric Fallon, program manager for the Army Hearing Program and Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.
Fallon and Gates emphasized the importance of preventive measures in avoiding even minor hearing loss, the most effective being the noise reduction ear plugs issued as part of the rapid fielding initiative.
“With today’s technology, we no longer have to accept hearing loss as a by-product of service,” Gates said.