NEWS | June 22, 2021

Now & Later, Hear This! Hearing Conservation Month

By Claudia LaMantia Public Health Command - Pacific

The Army constantly prepares for battles against any foes, including those that come in the form of noise. More specifically, the level of noise that hinders the ability to hear properly; this not only affects the individual but can hamper the mission.

There are a variety of proactive measures everyone can use in this fight, but they mainly consist of re-emphasizing the use of protective gear and balancing time away from excessive noise, according to Maj. Michael J. Kwon, director of Environmental Health Services, Public Health Command – Pacific.

Kwon methodically described the importance of efforts conducted by the Army in preserving the hearing of its service members. 

“We have industrial hygienists that help us,” but hearing is just one area they focus on, Kwon said. The industrial hygienists' specialty is primarily working toward recognizing those things in the work environment that may cause someone to be sick. They use standards of measure provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which advises that workers not be exposed to noise level above 90 decibels (dBA) during a regular workday, said Kwon.

Measures higher than 90 dBA can degrade a person’s hearing over time. OSHA suggests noise levels may be too high if a person hears ringing or humming from their ears when leaving work; has to shout to be heard by a coworker that is an arm’s length away; or experiences temporary hearing loss when leaving work.

With more than 480,000 Army members serving worldwide and the diverse military occupational skills that accompany them, there is bound to be an array of noise levels. Some locations will inherently leave workers with the need for hearing protection on a regular basis, such as being on a flight line, loading and unloading cargo from a vessel, or even driving military vehicles.

Regular exposure to any of those can easily result in hearing loss, said Allen Green, security officer for PHC-P. 

Green spent 20 years in the Air Force, mostly with security forces, surrounded by the sounds of jet engines, loud vehicles and an array of weapons that impacted his hearing; he now wears hearing aids to help with his day-to-day activities.

Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected with hearing aids or surgery, according to OSHA. They are preventable conditions that, with awareness can be diminished. Accordingly, National Observances are scheduled to bring attention to numerous topics. Hence, May begins with its monthlong observation of Better Hearing and Speech and finishes with Save Your Hearing Day on the last day of the month.

The Army takes this a step further by creating a greater emphasis on the use of appropriate protective gear now, particularly when attending a firing range. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, range noise can reach levels above 160 dBA. That is when the use of double hearing protection, such as wearing both earplugs and earmuffs, is highly recommended, said Kwon.
 
The Army has equipment such as sound level meters and noise dosimeters to measure noise exposure levels, but everyone can self-assess their intake of higher than recommended noise levels. The use of applications on cell phones or smart watches can be advantageous to alerting someone that the volume is too loud when listening to music or while playing video games.

Properly using technology can be helpful to our hearing but turning technology off occasionally can be just as valuable, Kwon said.

With the numerous artificial sounds surrounding him, Kwon recommends leaving work and all electronic equipment occasionally and being surrounded by nature and its sounds. 

"It’s not just for your hearing, but for your overall well-being," he added.