Hearing Loss: The #1 Injury in the War on Terror

http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=53208 ) in Stars and Stripes :

Hearing damage is the No. 1 disability in the war on terror, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and some experts say the true toll could take decades to become clear. Nearly 70,000 of the more than 1.3 million troops who have served in the two war zones are collecting disability for tinnitus, a potentially debilitating ringing in the ears, and more than 58,000 are on disability for hearing loss, the VA said.

"The numbers are staggering," said Theresa Schulz, a former audiologist with the Air Force, past president of the National Hearing Conservation Association and author of a 2004 report titled "Troops Return With Alarming Rates of Hearing Loss."

The Marine Corps Times has information (http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2008/03/marine_hearing_030108/) on some new high-tech hearing protection devices.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says (http://www.asha.org/about/publications/leader-online/archives/2006/060321/060321g.htm) :

Thousands of U.S. soldiers sent to Iraq have suffered [noise-induced hearing loss] due to a lack of education about hearing protection, a reduced force of military audiologists, and a lack of monitoring for threshold shifts, the research states.

Of these soldiers, 5.6 percent suffered acoustic trauma from a single loud noise, such as a bomb blast. Another 1.6 percent had broken eardrums, which often heal, but leave soldiers vulnerable to ear infections in unsanitary battlefield conditions. About 29 percent had a permanent threshold shift, and in 15.8 percent, the hearing loss was considered significant enough to limit or disqualify a soldier from duty according to military standards. Most visits for eardrum perforation or a permanent threshold shift occurred in April to June 2003, a period that coincided with the heaviest combat operations and blast injuries during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"These are not just mild hearing losses that you and I might have from listening to music, or from aging," said Brenda Lonsbury-Martin, ASHA chief staff officer for science and research. "These are pretty severe hearing losses that will impact your life."

The article says many of the injuries could have been prevented, but there weren't enough earplugs and commanders weren't given information about how to protect soldiers' hearing. To add to the problem, the number of audiologists has been cut in half and just one is in Iraq.

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