Hearing loss is the oldest, most prevalent, and invisible problem in the military. Tinnitus and hearing loss are the top two complications soldiers come home with. This is especially concerning, as the Department of Veterans Affairs hardly invests in preventing hearing problems. This begs the question: How can soldiers’ hearing be protected and their performance enhanced simultaneously?
We are all familiar with the expandable neon-colored, foam earplugs. These little guys can actually reduce noise up to 30 decibels (dB), which is a significant feat. To put that into perspective, 85 dB is the level of noise in a crowded restaurant, and 115 dB is the level of a chain saw or a rock concert. For unprotected ears, safe exposure to these decibels are a measly 30 seconds before loss could set in. With foam earplugs, that time frame can be increased to an impressive 8 hours.
The con of foam earplugs is the large gap that they leave in regard to maintaining auditory awareness. They do not discern between important sounds and background noise. “Maintaining auditory awareness means being able to hear quiet sounds that are potentially important — like a door opening or a twig breaking — even when there are guns or explosions going off nearby. What fighters needed was a kind of smart earplug — one that could boost those soft sounds, but then reduce the intensity of high-level impulse noises, so they’re protected from that noise” (NPR).
3M has created an innovative device called TCAPS (Tactical Communication and Protective System) that does just that. They are designed to dampen explosion noise while enhancing whispers and communication on the battlefield. Being able to hear the radio, for example, is crucial to survival. TCAPS are compatible with radio frequencies. The transition from quiet to noisy happens in a split second when you’re in a war zone; it’s important to be ready.
While TCAPS have been used in the special forces since 2000, they are definitely not standard across the forces. It is vital that we place a much higher importance on good hearing and protection; the connection between hearing and combat performance is strong. Even though protection is available, that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to use it. The cons to TCAPS are their cost, comfortability in a hot climate, taboos about hearing protection, and lack of education about hearing loss.
Kubick and Kubick Inc. believes in the importance and value of protecting your hearing health. We work with Starkey Hearing Technologies to fit custom products that you can use to preserve your hearing. Starkey offers traditional hearing protection and electronic hearing protection.
- Traditional Hearing Protection: Custom fit earplugs provide outstanding noise protection for a variety of recreational and occupational environments, such as swimming.
- Electronic Hearing Protection: SoundGear™ is a complete line of 100 percent digital products that enhance environmental awareness while also instantly and automatically protecting your ears from loud noises like gun blasts, engines, or industrial equipment and tools. SoundGear represents the latest advancements in electronic hearing protection.
Hearing loss is as prevalent as it is frustrating. So, if you know a veteran or someone that is actively on duty, please do your best to be patient with them if they need to have something repeated a second time, or if they need you to speak up just a little bit louder.
Protect your hearing!
Written by Janna Palmer