Increased hearing loss in service members associated with combat experience

By Wyatt Olson
Stars and Stripes

Published: February 10, 2015

Senior Airman Leighann Schuster, a 141st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, prepares for her annual hearing exam with the 108th Wing Medical Group at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, May 17, 2014. Schuster was required to get the hearing exam as part of her annual physical health assessment.

Kellyann Novak/U.S. Air National Guard photo

War is hell … on your hearing.
That’s what researchers concluded in a study published in the most recent issue of the journal Noise & Health.
“We found that combat experience was associated with a 63% increased risk for hearing loss,” the report summarized.
The study reviewed the cases of the 7.5 percent of 48,540 servicemembers who reported “new-onset” hearing loss during their time in service.
Researchers found that individuals who were deployed and had combat experience were 1.6 times more likely to report new-onset hearing loss as compared to their nondeployed counterparts.
By comparison, deployed servicemembers without combat experience were not at increased risk of hearing loss compared to nondeployed individuals, the study found.
The study defined combat deployment as being deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and having personally witnessed a death due to war, disaster or tragic event; witnessed instances of physical abuse; been exposed to dead or decomposing bodies; been exposed to maimed soldiers or civilians; or been exposed to prisoners of war or refugees.
The findings imply “that much of the hearing loss attributable to the deployment is related to specific combat experiences rather than to deployment itself,” the study stated.
Some combat troops are reluctant to use hearing protection, researchers wrote, citing previous studies of Canadian troops who felt such equipment “reduced detection of auditory warnings and reduced communication among the team members” and of U.S. Army cadets who critiqued such protective devices as performing poorly.
“These findings suggest that additional research is needed to design hearing protection devices that will meet the needs of ground combat forces,” the study concluded.