Continuing a century long trend, an increasing number of military
personnel are suffering hearing loss because, well, wars, and military operations
in general, are getting louder. While about 60 percent of troops wounded in
Iraq had undiagnosed brain injuries (from all the roadside bombs), a large
number also have ear damage as well. About ten percent of troops who have
served there, whether wounded or not, are collecting disability payments for
ear damage or hearing loss.
War I, and the first large scale use of artillery, mortars and grenades, combat
veterans have complained of long term hearing problems. This has led to more
effort to develop electronic ear protection, that can allow troops to hear
normally, when sound levels are normal, but block out very loud noises.
Equipment like this is already available for those who maintain jet engines,
and other loud equipment (like tanks). But making this gear rugged enough, and
cheap enough, for everyone, will take a few more years, and perhaps longer.
That's because some new equipment, like the powerful jet engines of the F-18E,
F-35 and F-22, are so loud that the noise goes right through the head and
damages the delicate tissues that enable us to hear. It's going to take a while
for evolution to catch up with this one, although acoustic engineers believe
they will come up with a solution in the next decade.
there are earplugs available that will lessen the damage of very loud noises,
and are rugged enough to survive battlefield use. The problem is getting the
troops to wear them. Like loud music, many "ordinary" sounds of
combat are ignored, but they gradually harm your hearing. It's the cumulative
effect of more automatic weapons, and smart bombs. The latter are a problem
because the improved accuracy allows the friendly troops to be closer to the
target (the better to rush in an take care of armed survivors), where they get
some of the loud noise from the explosion. Vehicles are getting louder because
they use larger engines. Bases are noisier because of all the generators, and
the troops often block out the "noise" with their iPods and video
has seen the problem coming. Back in the 1990s, when the U.S. Army developed a
realistic M-1 tank simulator (a replica of the crew compartment, hooked up to a
computer that generated realistic images on the sensors, and noises), the EPA
(Environmental Protection Agency) insisted that the realistic engine noises be
toned down, because they exceeded the noise level permissible at a workplace.
While the military can ignore the EPA when training, or in combat, with the
actual equipment, they had to comply with EPA rules when it came to simulators.