In 2005, the American Journal of Audiology released the results of a study conducted on soldiers deployed to the war zone in Iraq between April, 2003 and March, 2004 - at the height of the insurgency when American troops were under attack almost daily.
The report showed that those deployed to battle zones were 50% more likely to experience traumatic hearing loss than those troops who were not deployed to Iraq. With statistics like that the military took a good, long look at the problem.
The Army's Role
Fort Carson, in Colorado, is the center of operations for the study of traumatic hearing loss among troops. The Senior Audiologist leading the study group, Capt. Leanne Cleveland, stated that so far the Army's efforts are working.
"For soldiers to be successful on the battlefield, they have to shoot, move, communicate," Cleveland said. "Hand signals are not always enough. If you're getting a radio transmission and the command is ‘fall back' and you think the command is ‘attack,' that's huge."
There has been criticism from various fronts within the medical community that the Army has been slow to react to the problem of traumatic hearing loss. However, the Fort Carson team of two audiologists and five hearing technicians are focused on rehabilitative services as well as pro-active, "boots-on-the-ground" prevention.
The Fort Carson unit has ordered and delivered literally thousands of protective hearing devices to suit all combat conditions. Troops have been reluctant to wear ear plugs that block out the sound of potential danger, so "hear-through" devices have been distributed.
Further, in other research, the Army has determined that immediate treatment of traumatic hearing loss in the battlefield can prevent worsening damage. The powerful concussion produced by a nearby explosion damages the hearing mechanism, which then sends out free radicals - toxic molecules that quickly cause further damage and hearing loss.
Using anti-oxidants to combat free radicals has been shown, at least in initial studies, to mitigate further damage after one of our troops experiences an explosion that results in hearing loss.
These pro-active steps will have a dramatic impact on hearing loss caused by battlefield trauma.
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