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Protecting Your Hearing and Vision is a Personal Readiness Mission

Image of Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Dominique Campbell drives a forklift on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) during a vertical replenishment. She is wearing proper hearing and vision protection. Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Dominique Campbell drives a forklift on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) during a vertical replenishment. She is wearing proper hearing and vision protection. (Seaman Victoria Sutton)

Hearing and vision are important to everyone, including active duty service members. They must be alert at all times to their surroundings and potential dangers.

Fortunately, there are resources available from the Defense Heath Agency's Hearing Center of Excellence and Vision Center of Excellence to keep your eyes and ears sharp.

Experts from these centers help advance research to diagnose and treat diseases and conditions that affect military personnel and their families.

Hearing Loss

Limiting the risk of hearing loss is critical for a service member's health and readiness. DOD policy requires the military services to each manage a comprehensive hearing conservation program to reduce hazardous occupational and operational noise exposures.

The Army and Marine Corps provide annual hearing tests to all service members, while the Air Force and Navy conduct annual testing on service members who are routinely exposed to hazardous noise.

Noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, is a common medical concern reported to military hospitals and clinics, according to Air Force Lt. Col. April Taylor, an audiologist and a deputy branch chief of the Hearing Center of Excellence, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

"NIHL is caused by exposure to harmful noise, which can damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear. Once damaged, these microscopic hair cells…cannot repair themselves," she explained.

NIHL can occur gradually over time or with one single exposure. Repeated exposure to loud sounds over a period of time can cause permanent inner ear damage.

"The consequences of NIHL can be substantial in combat and non-combat situations, but it can also affect your personal life," Taylor said. Hearing and communication are fundamental to:

  • Relating with family and friends
  • Developing relationships
  • Joining in team and community activities
  • Appreciating life events
  • While noise is the number one workplace hazard for service members and civilian employees, hearing problems overall are declining in the military, according to a 2020 report.

A review of the data in 2022 has shown a plateau in the decline of hearing loss, but the trend has not continued downward, said audiologist Dr. Theresa Schulz, HCE Prevention and Surveillance section chief.

Hearing Loss Resources

Here are some resources to prevent, diagnose, or treat hearing loss.

  • Concussion (mild TBI) is one way you may experience both hearing and vision loss.
  • Tinnitus is deemed "bothersome" and can impact your everyday life. Tinnitus is often experienced as a ringing in the ears.
  • Protecting your hearing either on-duty or off-duty is crucial to readiness.
  • Mobile boothless hearing test units are being piloted by HCE and the U.S. Army.

Eye Injuries and Vision Trauma

Two common types of eye injuries include chemical exposure and burns, and blunt trauma such as falls, accidents, or recreational injuries.

All eye injuries are unique and treatment varies based on the type and degree of injury.

"The most effective treatment is prevention," said Marlene Facine, vision care coordinator at the Vision Center of Excellence, headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Service members should remember to include their eye protection with safety equipment such as helmets even while enjoying recreational activities.

From 2016 through 2019, there were more than 12,000 eye injuries among active duty service members. Based on a recent review of the Defense and Veterans Eye Injury and Vision Registry (DVEIVR), the number of blunt trauma injuries has remained fairly constant over the last 10 years.

Vision Care Resources

DHA recently opened two of four ocular trauma centers (OTCs) across the MHS enterprise to provide care for the full range of eye injuries – from initial medical/surgical management through visual rehabilitation and follow-on care in DOD or Department of Veterans Affairs' facilities. The first two regional centers are at Brooke Army Medical Center/Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center in San Antonio, Texas; Walter Reed National Military Medical Center/Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, National Capital Region, and the others will be located at Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and Naval Medical Center San Diego, California.

Vision Care Service Coordinators are embedded in those clinics. The team interacts with thousands of eye injury patients each year. These injuries are typically due to occupational hazards, training activities, and conflict events.

Preventing Vision Loss

If you are experiencing any vision or hearing problems, contact your military hospital or clinic for an evaluation.

Protecting your eyes is essential to mission readiness, communications, and safety.

Proper eye protection is crucial to curtailing injuries. Different types of safety eyewear or goggles may be needed depending on the type of work you are doing and the environment you are working in.

Regardless of the reason for vision problems, early intervention is key to recovery. "Any eye that can be repaired, should be repaired," Facine said.

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