Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Center develops tool to help service members select optimal hearing protection

Image of Marine holding and aiming a rifle. Click to open a larger version of the image. U.S. Marine Corps PFC. Andy Solis, a rifleman with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (2nd LAR), 2d Marine Division, wears hearing protection while firing his rifle at a notional enemy target during a live fire range on the National Training Center 20-05 in Ft. Irwin, California, March 22, 2020. The National Training Center is a unique opportunity that allows Marines and Sailors to train with and against a peer competitor in a conventional combat operational setting. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Elijah J. Abernathy)

Recommended Content:

Hearing and Balance Injuries

Researchers studying hearing loss over the last decade have found that service members often don’t wear hearing protection because they think the devices will block out critical sounds that are necessary to complete the mission.

This competing need to protect hearing while maintaining situational awareness makes wearing hearing protection an ongoing challenge, according to internal surveys conducted by military audiologists from each of the service branches.

“While hearing loss is a concern, we find that some service members accept it as a risk when more pressing or life-threatening duties depend upon having no hearing limitations or barriers,” said Dr. Theresa Schulz, prevention branch chief for the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence.

To address this challenge, the center has embarked on a two-phase initiative to develop an evidence-based Hearing Protection Device Evaluated Products List (HPD EPL) that will help service members and noise-exposed DoD civilians select the most appropriate personal protective equipment for their environment and missions. The overall initiative is to devise standardized methods for selecting hearing protection based on noise reduction, communication, and situational awareness requirements.

The first phase of the project was completed in March 2018, which included creating and distributing a product poster and guidebook that illustrates how to select a variety of passive hearing protection, such as earplugs, for continuous and impulsive (blasts or explosions) noise.

“The passive protection list is helping hearing health professionals, industrial hygienists, and safety professionals to better select and recommend passive hearing protection that is most effective for the noise environment and hearing-critical tasks service members perform,” explained Schulz.

In addition to the poster and guidebook, the center participated in the development and publication of a national standard that provides methods for assessing how well open ear and head-worn devices can locate the direction of sound.

“For military members, being able to locate the direction and distance to gunfire, for instance, is critical in determining the location of enemies,” said Schulz.

According to project lead Kari Buchanan, an industrial hygienist with the center, phase 2 of the project will involve updating the guidebook to incorporate more tested devices, such as tactical communication hearing protectors, and developing service-specific educational materials to help commanders and service members select the optimum device.

“The HPD EPL is a tool that helps everyone select the right hearing protector for the noise environment both on and off the job,” said Schulz. “It’s for anyone responsible for providing, fitting, and using personal protective equipment. That includes military members and civilians, along with employers, commanders, supervisors, and leaders at all levels responsible for the safety and hearing health of their people.”

Col. (Dr.) LaKeisha Henry, the center’s division chief, is hopeful the EPL will lead to more widespread use and acceptance of hearing protection, which could have a positive impact on future hearing loss.

“Hearing loss can have severe consequences for our health and future well-being,” said Henry. “With improved hearing protection selection and continued hearing health education, our service members and DoD civilians will be more inclined to use HPDs, which will significantly help to reduce hearing injuries across all Services.”

For more about the hearing protection device evaluated products list, visit the Hearing Center of Excellence webpage.

You also may be interested in...

Patients Contribute to Shape Future Hearing Loss Treatment

Barbara Kelly from the Hearing Loss Association of America hosting a meeting

Patient-focused meeting could lead to improved hearing loss therapies

Recommended Content:

Centers of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Hearing and Balance Injuries | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

MHS and MOS Town Hall: "To Your Health"

Images of Dr. Theresa Schulz and Colonel Mark Reynolds

MHS and Military OneSource: To Your Health: A Discussion with experts from the Hearing Center of Excellence and the Vision Center of Excellence

Recommended Content:

Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Hearing and Balance Injuries |

Researchers find key senses impact readiness, survival

Military personnel in driver and casualty evacuation training

Sound localization is a critical component of situational awareness, or to put it in layman’s terms, knowing what is going on around you

Recommended Content:

Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Hearing and Balance Injuries

Strategies for hearing loss prevention help service members stay ready

An infographic with the words "World Hearing Day" at the top, images of people using their hears to listen, and "educate, protect, monitor" at the bottom

The Defense Health Agency is one of many healthcare entities celebrating World Hearing Day on March 3.

Recommended Content:

Hearing Center of Excellence | Hearing and Balance Injuries | Centers of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

New report finds military hearing health is improving

Military doctor inspecting patient's ear

Noise-induced hearing loss is decreasing for active-duty service members.

Recommended Content:

Combat Support | Health Readiness | Hearing and Balance Injuries | Hearing Center of Excellence

Audiologist demonstrates importance of hearing conservation

Woman demonstrating how to insert a foam earplug into the ear

Hearing loss is a significant health and readiness issue for the U.S. military.

Recommended Content:

Hearing and Balance Injuries

Navy audiology increases medical readiness and hearing awareness

Soldier wearing mask, sitting at laptop with a container of ear plugs close by

"The mission of Navy Audiology is to prevent occupational-related hearing injuries and increase medical readiness."

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Hearing and Balance Injuries

Pilot DoD/VA hearing program virtually trains technicians

Military personnel sitting in front of laptop

HCE virtually trains hearing technicians during COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Hearing and Balance Injuries | Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs Program Office

HCE celebrates 10 years focused on hearing health

Woman exhibiting correct earplug insertion

Look back on 10 years of service, and what’s been done so far in support of the mission.

Recommended Content:

Hearing and Balance Injuries
Showing results 1 - 9 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.