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The Military is Reporting Far Fewer Hearing Problems

Image of Soldiers wear hearing protection while firing an M3 multi-role anti-armor antipersonnel weapon system during live-fire training at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Sept. 15, 2021. . Soldiers wear hearing protection while firing an M3 multi-role anti-armor antipersonnel weapon system during live-fire training at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Sept. 15, 2021.

Hearing loss in the Department of Defense continues to decrease for service members and civilians enrolled in hearing conservation programs, according to a recent report from the Defense Health Agency Hearing Center of Excellence.

The Hearing Health Surveillance Data Review, Military Hearing Conservation Report for fiscal year 2020 indicates an overall decreasing trend of hearing impairment for all service components.

According to Dr. Theresa Schulz, HCE prevention branch chief, data show the number of hearing impaired service members fell from 18% in 2013 to 14.5% in 2020. Report findings also reveal the percent of noise-exposed civilians with hearing impairment continues to show a gradual decrease over the last several years. The percent of noise-exposed civilians with hearing impairment decreased from 46.1% in FY13 to 39.3% in fiscal year 2020.

Reducing hearing loss is a centerpiece of DOD's policy to protect military personnel and noise-exposed civilians from hearing loss caused by occupational and operational noise exposure through a continuing, effective, and comprehensive hearing conservation program. The policy also strives to reduce hazardous occupational and operational noise exposure to enhance mission readiness, communication, and safety.

Those enrolled in a hearing conservation program get annual hearing tests, hearing protection fittings, and hearing conservation education sessions to reduce noise-induced hearing loss, according to Schulz. "These educational opportunities are important touch-points for achieving hearing readiness," she said.

Schulz emphasized how hearing readiness remains a critical component of ongoing hearing conservation efforts administered by the service components. "Hearing readiness is a process to ensure service members have the necessary hearing capability and properly fitted hearing protection devices for mission readiness and deployment," she said.

Schulz noted each DOD component establishes, maintains, and evaluates the effectiveness of their own respective hearing conservation programs, which vary by service component.

"There are differences in how each service manages their programs," explained Schulz. "The Army and Marine Corps take a total force approach and provide annual hearing tests to all service members, while the Air Force and Navy conduct annual hearing tests on service members who are routinely exposed to hazardous noise."

The report consolidated measures of effectiveness from all service components, and reviewed service level efforts to prevent hearing loss and improve hearing health of those enrolled in DOD hearing conservation programs. Report data was jointly developed by the DOD Hearing Conservation Working Group; the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, Public Health and Preventive Medicine Department, Epidemiology Consult Service Division; and the DHA Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch, Air Force Satellite at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

According to Schulz, hearing impairment can be further reduced by implementing the Comprehensive Hearing Health Program, developed by HCE. "This is a triad approach conducted by each service to educate, protect, and monitor service members and civilians who are routinely exposed to hazardous noise. Together with hearing conservation programs we will hopefully continue to see declining hearing loss across the DOD," she said.

Read the full report.

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