Hearing healthcare is important every month, but for a certain group of people, hearing protection is vital in day-to-day operations – our veterans.

The high decibels of sudden or long-term explosives, military gunfire, and military equipment can all cause a hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which has been well documented by the VA. One multinational company, 3M, has been providing hearing protection for our military members for years because of this.

But while 3M claimed to provide our military with adequate hearing protection for many years, one U.S. Army vet’s lawsuit against them — over their inadequate earplugs — has finally reached a verdict.

The Importance Of Hearing Protection In Noisy Environments

Wearing hearing protection is essential in any noisy environment to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

There are a few different types of products to protect your hearing available that suit the wearer best, but all must fit properly and all must reduce the number of decibels needed to protect the hearing from the noise you’re being exposed to.

What Happens If You Don’t Protect Your Hearing Properly?

A hearing loss from noise exposure can be sudden, temporary, or worse, permanent, and it could be accompanied by tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Sometimes all it takes is one blast of a gun.

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How Often Are Veterans Seen By Audiologists?

Here in the Walla Walla area, we see veterans at least once a week, and most of them are there because of noise-induced hearing loss from their time in service, with blast exposure causing the highest percentage of hearing loss.

The many studies done by the VA on hearing loss in veterans include findings that “33% of service members and 48% of Veterans with blast exposure had decreased sound tolerance. Among those who had not been exposed to blasts, 28% of service members and 38% of Veterans had decreased sound tolerance.”

When 3M Failed A U.S. Army Veteran With Their Inadequate Hearing Protection

There has been a series of trials against 3M, claiming they sold military-issued earplugs they knew were defective for seven years. While 3M has never admitted wrongdoing, they have settled many claims to the tune of millions.

This article from Reuters writer Nate Raymond explains how one U.S. Army veteran won $8.2M from his lawsuit “after finding the earplugs had a design defect and that 3M failed to provide adequate safety warnings,” resulting in his hearing loss and tinnitus.

The earplugs in question would work their way loose and let noise in sometimes if the flexible cups on the earplugs were not folded back.

It is so important that users are instructed properly on how to insert this type of noise protection. Custom-fit noise protection is much easier for the user to insert, which is vital in order for the protection to work.

How Will This Affect The Future Of Hearing Protection?

I am concerned that the public will read the headlines and conclude that noise protection is ineffective when it’s actually a very good way to prevent noise exposure.

I’d like to see these lawsuits spread more awareness of the need for hearing protection. So much of the hearing loss veterans come to see me for could have been prevented if the manufacturers had been honest and given the best instructions possible for how to wear it.

I think many manufacturers will now do more to ensure they get it right.

Do Other Noisy Environments Require Hearing Protection?

Both occupational and recreational noise risks are dangerous for our hearing. Working in noisy factories or in construction are what most people think of as environments with toxic levels of noise, but other activities can also result in a hearing loss:

There are different types of hearing protection you can wear for each type of noise exposure to ensure you get the best protection possible.

Contact us if you’d like to know more about custom hearing protection.

Know A Veteran With A Hearing Loss?

If you or a veteran you know has a hearing loss, yearly hearing exams and properly fit hearing devices are essential to preventing future damage.

One of the earliest signs of a hearing loss is when loved ones notice it. Because hearing loss is usually very gradual, you might not notice it yourself for quite some time, so if someone else suggests it, pay attention, and have your hearing evaluated ASAP.

How Can A Veteran Get Adequate Hearing Protection?

We have provided many in our community with custom hearing protection. We have several options, including musicians earplugs and ear protection for hunters that allows them to improve their hearing while listening to the rustle of the brush.

Call the Prosser, Walla Walla, or Kennewick location of Sound Audiology and Hearing Aids to set up a hearing test, or contact us to schedule an appointment so you can get the best hearing protection possible and prevent any further damage to your hearing.

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Lori Losey Lovato MA, FAAA, Audiologist

Discover articles and resources written exclusively by Lori Losey Lovato - MA, FAAA. Lori believes in developing close relationships with each and every patient.