Skip to main content

Military Health System

Test of Sitewide Banner

This is a test of the sitewide banner capability. In the case of an emergency, site visitors would be able to visit the news page for addition information.

DOD Conservation Programs Help to Decrease Hearing Loss

Image of A group of service members walking. Hearing and eye protection is required by all service members when firing weapons or operating loud machinery. Here, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Marcus Schaffer with the Illinois Air National Guard dons hearing protection during weapons training at Camp San Luis Obispo, California, Aug. 8, 2021. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Rodriguez, 126th Air Refueling Wing)

Noise can be a prevalent hazardous exposure to service members, regardless of occupation or specialty.

Around 10% of service members are affected by hearing loss. “The two largest claims of disability in the Department of Veterans Affairs for the last several years have been tinnitus and hearing loss,” according to U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kyle Shepard, an occupational audiologist at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

The Comprehensive Hearing Health Program was developed by the Defense Health Agency Hearing Center of Excellence as a collection of tools which can be used by the services’ Hearing Conservation Programs. These materials group the elements of an effective hearing conservation program in three components: education, protection, and monitoring to combat hearing loss. Focused on protecting military personnel and civilians from hearing loss caused by occupational and operational noise exposure, the program aims to make conserving hearing a life-long priority.

Educating our Forces on the Issue

First, the Hearing Conservation Programs inform service members about the risk of hearing loss.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Hammerbacher, hearing conservation program manager at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, noted that jobs like security forces, explosive ordinance disposal, firefighters, mechanics, and pilots are usually at higher risk than other occupations and need to be educated accordingly. Yet, he adds, it’s not just the presence of loud noise that can cause hearing loss. Research has shown that those who handle certain chemicals, like jet fuel or solvents, are at risk of developing hearing loss or balance problems, regardless of noise exposure.

The U.S. Air Force, like the other branches, holds annual trainings for those enrolled in programs, as well as lectures, town hall meetings, and community awareness programs “to educate not only the military components, but also civilians. We train on the use of proper hearing protection, effects of hazardous noise, and measures one can take to reduce their chance of hearing loss,” said Hammerbacher.

It's also important to know the signs and symptoms of hearing loss to get help if there’s an issue. According to the National Institutes of Health, signs of hearing loss include:

• A dullness in hearing.

• Ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

• Difficulty following conservations.

• Difficulty in understanding speech.

Enforcing Protection and New Technology to Prevent Loss

Shepard stressed the importance of protective equipment. “In the military, we're getting faster, stronger and more lethal, which often involves our aircrafts, weapon systems, or equipment becoming louder. We need to think about personal protective equipment and controls on the individual,” said Shepard.

He explained that sometimes sailors can get frustrated with their protection, because they may not understand commands, and will often remove it. “I empathize with them. We need to strike that balance between adequately protecting, but not over protecting, so we don't decrease performance, particularly from a communication and situational awareness standpoint.”

Innovations in hearing technology can further protect service members, including equipment that helps you communicate while conserving your hearing.

“The biggest advances currently being investigated are electronic hearing protectors. They have active noise-reduction technology, which include speakers and microphones in and outside of earmuffs, that when turned on, can digitally suppress noise inside of the hearing protector,” said Shepard.

Newer innovations like noise-attenuating helmet systems, tactical communications and protective systems, new materials for ear plugs, 3D scanning of ear canals, 3D printing of earplugs, equipment encasements, and much more are also being tested across the DOD.

Monitoring Exposure to Noise

Monitoring noise exposure is a critical part of military hearing conservation. As an example, the program monitors not only risks, but who is at risk. “Unlike the Marine Corps, where every Marine is a rifleman, and therefore everyone is automatically enrolled in the hearing conservation program, in the Navy we determine which personnel are routinely exposed to hazardous noise and meet the criteria to be enrolled,” said Shepard.

It's also important to know how sound intensity impacts hearing loss. “The hazard is noise. We need to determine what type of noise people are exposed to, whether it’s impulse, continuous, or a mixture. Then how intense that noise is and what is the average amount of time people may be around it,” said Shepard.

A newer technology that makes monitoring hearing loss easier and more accessible for the warfighter is “boothless” audiometry, which are portable tests. The capability increases access to hearing services because hearing tests can now be completed anywhere.

“It's a game changer,” said Dr. Victoria Bugtong, hearing program manager at Fort George G. Meade Medical Department Activity at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center, in Fort Meade, Maryland. “It's a wireless testing system. It uses noise cancellation technology in headsets and can be done outside of the conventional clinic setting like office spaces, conference rooms, in the field, or wherever needed.”

Successful hearing conservation and care also consider how service members are treated. “Our treatments are done with a multidisciplinary approach to determining causes of issues and how to appropriately intervene. A proper hearing conservation program is managed with specialists in multiple professions,” said Hammerbacher.

Shepard talked about the four “Ps” of hearing loss. The first “one is unfortunately, that it’s painless. I wish noise-induced hearing loss always caused pain, but it doesn’t. So, it’s harder to detect immediately. The second is that it’s progressive. The third ‘P’ is that it is permanent. There is no medication or surgery that can reverse that injury right now. The fourth ‘P’ is that is preventable.”

Education about prevention is ultimately the best solution against hearing loss. An increase in applying prevention methods is why the military has seen a decrease in hearing loss prevalence over time. “I would argue most of all, it’s just the culture that we’re trying to create around safety in the military,” Shepard said. “While I’m a big proponent of mental toughness, grit, and resilience, and that is obviously a very large virtue in the military, these are not attributes you can rely on to overcome hearing loss.”

You also may be interested in...

Navy Expeditionary Medical Unit Rotations Provide Ongoing Support in the Middle East

Article Around MHS
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Freeman Morrison, a biomedical technician, left, and U.S. Navy Lt. j. g. Andrew Mappus, an emergency room nurse, right, assigned to Navy Expeditionary Medical Unit 10- Gulf, Rotation 13, are monitoring an U.S. Army Medic Task Force Buckeye, 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, as he draws blood from an soldier on Dec. 20. (Photo by U.S. Navy Capt. Jerrol Walla)

The 30-member team conducted enhanced shore-based activities at Erbil Air Base in Iraq, where they provided life, limb, and eyesight-saving care to the U.S. armed forces, Department of Defense, civilian contractors, and multi-national coalition forces. They also provided critical support to facilities in the Eastern Syria Security Area.

Ensuring Sight for Flight at Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor

Article Around MHS
Ocular trauma training with a focus on foreign body removal was conducted at Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor’s Optometry by U.S. Navy Lt. Courtney Rafferty, clinic optometrist, assisted by U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Christopher Cruz. The training covered such optical concerns as removing metallic foreign bodies from the eye. The techniques used were part of ensuring competency to provide comprehensive eye and vision care needed for optimal – and ocular - mission readiness (Courtesy Photo)

May is recognized by the Defense Health Agency as Health Vision and Hearing Month, U.S. Navy Lt. Courtney C. Rafferty, Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor optometrist, explains the critical importance attached to the monthly theme.

Dizziness and Visual Problems After Concussion

Graphic containing general information on dizziness and vision  problems after a traumatic brain injury. Visit and download related fact sheets for information.

More than 80% of all concussions—also known as mild traumatic brain injury—in the military are considered mild. Dizziness and visual problems are among the most common symptoms after concussion and often resolve within days or weeks

Report Reveals Military Hearing Loss is Stable

Report Reveals Military Hearing Loss is Stable

The Defense Health Agency’s Hearing Center of Excellence Military Hearing Conservation Report for fiscal year 2021 revealed that hearing loss in the Department of Defense remains relatively stable among service members and civilians enrolled in hearing conservation programs.

Concussion Protocols Aid Diagnosis, Treatment, and Recovery

Concussion Protocols Aid Diagnosis, Treatment, and Recovery

Whether on the sport field or the battlefield, the Defense Health Agency is the global leader in research on the effects of concussion—known as mild traumatic brain injury—in the military. Its research has fueled the development of protocols to help providers assess and treat concussion from initial injury to acute and post-acute medical settings, rehabilitation, and, ultimately, a return to family, community, work, continued duty, or recreation.

Walter Reed Audiology and Speech Pathology Center Focuses on Improving Quality of Life for Military Health System Beneficiaries

Article Around MHS
World Hearing Day is observed annually on March 3, and this year’s theme is “Ear and Hearing Care for All.”  (Courtesy photo)

Although World Hearing Day is observed just one day during the year, the Audiology and Speech Pathology Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center focuses on improving the health and quality of life for MHS beneficiaries nearly every day of the year.

VCE Makes Laser Eye Exposure Treatment Recommendations

Demonstration of new retinal camera

Vision Center of Excellence issues first treatment practice recommendations for laser eye exposure.

Hearing Noises That Aren’t There? It Could Be Tinnitus

Article Around MHS
Hearing Issues infographic

Are the noises you're hearing real or imagined? If you've ever wondered that, you may have a condition that 10 percent of the adult population of the United States currently suffer from -- and not even know it.

Hearing Protector Fit-Testing Requirement in the Department of Defense

Fact Sheet

Significant updates to the Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 6055.12 “Hearing Conservation Program” are expected to be published in April 2023. The significant change is a new requirement for initial hearing protector fit-testing to be conducted for all DOD personnel who have documented noise exposure greater than or equal to 95 dBA 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) and who are enrolled in a service hearing conservation program (HCP).

National Glaucoma Awareness Month

National Glaucoma Awareness Month

There’s no cure for glaucoma, but early detection and treatment can protect your vision. Learn more and see if you’re at risk. #GlaucomaAwarenessMonth

I Am Navy Medicine -- Audiology Technician

Article Around MHS
U.S. Navy Seaman Tabetha M. Sanders, audiology technician

With October designated as Audiology Awareness Month, now is the time for everyone to listen up, heed the call, and harken to the need for healthy hearing.

Mobile Hearing Tests Prove Successful in the Field and Beyond

Female service member in front holds a clicker while wearing a headset. In the background is the hearing test technician..

Mobile audiometry equipment can be used from the point of injury to advanced traumas.

New Policy Benefits Noise-exposed Service Members

A service member wears headphones while sitting at a desk.

New hearing protection fit-testing policy on the horizon.

Audiology Awareness Month Hear for Life

Audiology Awareness

People at every stage of life—from young to older adults—are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Hearing loss can impact not only your readiness but the quality of life. National Audiology Awareness Month reminds us how important hearing is as a critical sense and explains how to protect your hearing. Regular hearing checkups are important actions you can take to ensure your hearing is healthy. For more information, visit: #AudiologyAwarenessMonth

Audiology Awareness Month Healthy Ears

Audiology Awareness

#DYK? Audiologists are health care professionals who can help prevent, evaluate, diagnose, treat and manage hearing loss and balance disorders. To find an audiologist, visit: #AudiologyAwarenessMonth

Page 1 of 4 , showing items 1 - 15
First < 1 2 3 4 > Last 
Refine your search
Last Updated: February 01, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery