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US Troops Prefer Not Wearing Hearing Protection in AFG

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Troops reject ear protection in Afghanistan
Army Times, 26 Aug 09
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Damaged ear drums and other hearing loss ailments top the list of complaints at the Ear, Nose and Throat walk-in clinics at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, pointing to a preference by troops to reject the use of ear protection, according to medical personnel.

Though troops are issued ear protection and many units require troops to use it, more than half the patients seen at the ENT clinics are there for hearing-related issues, said an Army news release.

“The first question I ask a patient who comes in with a hearing complaint is ‘Were you wearing hearing protection?’” Air Force Col. (Dr.) Joseph Brennan said in the release. “Since I arrived here in May, I have not had one service member answer ‘yes’ to that question.”

Many troops say they don’t use hearing protection on missions because they feel it affects their situational awareness, ability to do their jobs and complete their missions, he said.

“I was in Iraq in ‘04 and ‘05 — in Fallujah with the Marines and the Army’s 1st Infantry Division — and we just couldn’t get folks to wear their hearing protection,” Brennan said. “We understand. It is like the old Army helmets — soldiers were complaining they couldn’t shoot with them. So even though they offered better protection, which as a doctor is what I care about, the fight is most important.”

While in Iraq, Brennan said, he saw more than 600 outpatients in an ENT clinic, and hearing loss was the top diagnosis there, just as it is today in Afghanistan.

Loud noises such as those from improvised explosive devices — the top cause for hearing loss in Iraq and Afghanistan – can cause conductive hearing loss, sensory neuro hearing loss or tinnitus, Brennan said.

The most common problem, Brennan said, is a blown-out ear drum, which is considered a conductive form of hearing loss.

This means that sound is not reaching the nerve in the ear that allows people to hear, Brennan explained, adding that it can heal on its own.

He recalled an incident in Iraq in 2004 in which a soldier had been through two roadside bomb blasts.

“The second explosion really blew out his ear drums, and he could not hear a thing. The soldier’s sergeant and his fellow soldiers were on a rooftop in a firefight. The bullets were buzzing by his head. His sergeant had to tackle him to get him out of the line of fire, because the soldier could not hear his comrades yelling for him to take cover.”

Brennan urged troops to get used to wearing ear protection for their own safety and the safety of their fellow troops. And, he cautioned, hearing loss can lead to medical discharge or reclassification to another military occupational specialty.

Some discussion on militarytimes.com forum here.