View Full Version : curious: ear protection for soldiers?

October 23, 2006, 05:34 AM
So these guys fighting indoors/outdoors/everywhere imaginable with M16's and pistols and all sorts of things going off. Will they all come back deaf?

Just at our outdoor range here where the pistol range is under sheet steel awnings: I had to adjust an earplug that wasn't seated properly, and somebody down the line fired a shot. It was not painful, but definitly loud and uncomfortable. They were about 20 feet away with a .45 or something.

Is gunfire indoors liable to cause permanent hearing damage? How many exposures would it take? Is there any 'going back to normal'?

Just curious about the topic.

October 23, 2006, 05:41 AM
Did some reading around and found:

Gunshot: 140-170 db

Anything over 85 db can cause hearing loss if the exposeure is long enough
Over 100db for more then 15min at a time can cause damage
Over 110 db for more then 1 min can cause damage
140db is above the "threshold of pain" and can cause immediate damage.

For the most part hearing loss is permanent.

All of the above is why I wear double ear protection at the range. I feel sorry for soldiers who are probably exposed to lots of gunfire without protection.

October 23, 2006, 07:16 AM
In basic training we were required to wear ear plugs when at the shooting range,greande range,etc. I have heard of guys wearing ear plugs overseas, but if they aren't in when you start fighting you aren't gonna stop to put them on. It's definitely possible to lose your hearing, but I know plenty of guys who have fired SAWs day in and day out without plugs and can still hear fine.

October 23, 2006, 07:52 AM
So these guys fighting indoors/outdoors/everywhere imaginable with M16's and pistols and all sorts of things going off. Will they all come back deaf?
Maybe not deaf, but definitely many will suffer hearing loss. I've known uncles who fought in WWII and my father who fought in Vietnam. One thing they all had in common--high frequency hearing loss. I don't understand why soldiers aren't equiped with something like game ears that serve as hearing protection from gunshots yet give you a good idea of what's going on around you. I wouldn't mind the higher taxes if it went to something worthwhile like that.

October 23, 2006, 08:01 AM
With me, not immediately, but 40 years later.......


October 23, 2006, 08:15 AM
In the military you get hearing loss from noise generated by weapons and continous noise from machinery. Need hearing protection from both. I have high frequency hearing loss which means that ther are some sounds in a word I cant hear.

October 23, 2006, 09:37 AM
Don't take this the wrong way, but here's the scenario-- You're walking point when SHTF-- you yell to you're squad/team "put in your hearing protection before firing". Sorry but when you're butt is on the line, you're hearing is the last damned thing you're concerned about. I too returned from SE Asia with hearing loss, but that's just part of exposure to combat conditions. As a field radio operator, I can't imagine putting something in my ears while calling in air support. OK OK I'll get of my band wagon. Sorry folks..

October 23, 2006, 09:48 AM
I imagine it's only a matter of time before electronic hearing protection is integrated in a soldier's kit. Beyond the health benefits they could also amplify normal sounds to improve hearing and be tied into various communications systems.

October 23, 2006, 09:50 AM
This is a problem with most people who work around loud noises and are required to hear what's going on around them. My father is a rock-and-roll musician, and his hearing is not what it used to be. Of course, if he wears hearing protection, then he won't be able to hear the subtleties of the instrument sound.

Temporary deafness from one or two encounters of very loud noise are often recoverable. So, unless these guys are simply entrenched for months and months under very heavy fire, it is unlikely that many of them will be permanently damaged. (At least, not until much later in life.) Of course, there will always be a few special cases...

We saw this in WWII. Of those that came back (my grandfather was one), few suffered any debilitating permanent hearing loss. Most people were a little affected, but most of them could still basically hear.

So, in day to day training, hearing protection is VITAL. But, in a quick, one or two day battle, a little weapons fire won't really hurt you.

(Keep in mind that these are my personal opinions. Medical studies all over the world suggest that I am DEAD wrong on this issue. But, I know plenty of honored veterans who can still hear just fine.)

The Real Wyatt
October 23, 2006, 12:56 PM
I spent more than a few years in the USMC and shot tens of thousands of rounds out of my M1 Garand, all without any hearing protection.

Throughout my life I've fired way over a half million rounds thru various pistols, rifles and shotguns ... all without any hearing protecton. I still shoot about 250 rounds per week, every week.

Do I hear as well now as I did in my twenties? No, ceratinly not. Do I hear as well as others my age? Absolutely, and better than most. We all lose hearing abiliby with age, some moreso than others.

Everytime I go to a movie theatre I feel that they have the sound turned up way too loud.

October 23, 2006, 01:45 PM
We now issue everyone combat arms ear plugs, and beyond that many get issue Sordin and Boise active earmuffs.

Desert Heat
October 23, 2006, 02:24 PM
Forget about the gunfire, imagine what the mortors and IEDs must sound like.

October 23, 2006, 02:27 PM
I was all but completely deaf for a couple weeks after shooting a .357 mag. out of the cab of an S-10. I didn't think it'd hurt me, since the gun was outside of the truck. WRONG!!!

October 23, 2006, 05:47 PM
ROTLF on that image spurrit!! :D

October 23, 2006, 07:30 PM
If I remember correctly from acoustics class, there are two types of hearing damage:

First is from really loud stuff. This may cause temporary deafness, which is actually the ear canals closing off to protect against other noises and to allow some time to heal. A large percentage of this type of damage may actually heal. But the recovery is never complete.

The second is from everyday stuff like loud music, or machinery. This type has a cumulative effect and you are less likely to recover from long-term exposure. The worst offender in this category are low frequency tones which you may not even be able to hear, but still cause damage. (Example, subwoofers in a car.)

Generally, damage to the auditory nerves is permanent. We all start life with more than enough nerve cells. But when they die off, they don't come back. As we reach old age, then all that stuff that didn't seem to cause any harm 40 yrs ago catches up to us.

October 23, 2006, 09:01 PM
Hearing loss is inevitable for the front-line troops, not only from small-arms fire,
but from exposure to grenade explosions, RPGs going off around them, not to
mention the IEDs going off under their vehicles. And unless things have
changed a LOT at the V.A. since I was down there, they are, or were, very reluctant to give any kind of disability for hearing loss.
Because of ruptured eardrums due to explosive concussions, my hearing
was pretty bad when I came back from Viet Nam. My left ear is so bad I
can't use it to talk on the phone, because I can't hear anything. And sometimes the tinnitus really gets loud enough to be annoying. But the V.A. said my hearing tests were "inconclusive", and refused me any disability.
Oh, well, I haven't missed any meals because of those idiots, but I sure
hope they have changed their ways and our guys and gals coming home now with hearing problems can get some HELP.:mad:


October 23, 2006, 09:52 PM
If an IED goes off under your vehicle chances are you aren't going to worry about you hearing. But you are right about the VA and hearing, I am an artillerymen and it is a natural consequence of the job to go deaf.

T. O'Heir
October 23, 2006, 10:55 PM
"...How many exposures would it take?..." One and no. Firing a .22 indoors without hearing protection will damage your hearing. It's mostly accumlative, but one shot will damage your hearing.

November 2, 2006, 09:36 PM
When I was in the service not that long ago I was a grunt and only used 1 ear plug I needed to be able to hear to communicate under fire. And other times I would forget, lose, rip my ear plugs and have to use cigarette butts. And yes my hearing is crap, if I'm not concentrating it sounds muffled; but you put me out in the woods and I will hear you move before just about anyone. And the VA won't compensate because we were issued hearing protection.

November 5, 2006, 11:55 PM
Read more on auditory exclusion, adrenal stress response and the physiology of the body under stress.


Most of the guys over there (numbers approach 80%) don't hear anything when an actual battle is going on. A large number of those don't have any ringing afterwards unless there is some cannon or artillery fire nearby.

And like several have said already, if there is cannon or artillery fire nearby, hearing is the least of your problems.

Ala Dan
November 6, 2006, 10:18 AM
Greeting's All-

You know, I don't remember us having any ear protection in Uncle Sams
U.S. Army basic training (late Nov. to early Jan. 65-66) at Fort Benning,
GA when firing the M-14. Heck, it was so cold in those Georgia pines
that our ears probably didn't hear the rounds going off~!;) :D

November 14, 2006, 06:44 PM
While I was in the Navy I stood on the gun mount between two 3in. 50 cal.twin rapid fire cannons.The only ear protection I had was the sound powered phones that covered my ears.Not much!
If I had worn plugs I probably couldn't have heard commands from the bridge,etc. I have permanent hearing damage from that.I have always used protection with small arms,but it has been too little,too late.
That was over forty years ago,and I have also wondered how its handled in the armed forces of today.

November 15, 2006, 01:20 AM
I owuld think that having a set of those plugs with the valve that shuts off loud sound would be very handy. If I were there I would have a few pairs.

November 28, 2006, 06:37 PM
all the Marines i've seen/talked to back from iraq used hearing protection...either the valve kind or had the soft kind and had either one in or both in and 1 slightly loser to hear...we are issued them in my unit.:cool:

Edit: auditory exclusion only works as a mental state, physically the damage is still done from what I understand.


Makarov The Lucky
November 28, 2006, 07:07 PM
I know a few of my relatives who didnt wear hearing protection while they served in past wars. Most of them came back tone deaf. You have to speak very loud around them and they cant hear some sounds in different words and other various sounds ect. It must suck...

November 28, 2006, 11:45 PM
sure we are required to carry them and wear them at the range. But when the actual shooting goes off in the real world ear plugs are the last thing you think about.

I entered the service with perfect hearing and left it with severe hearing loss due to multiple explosions, gunfire, etc... after serving in Iraq (x2) and Afghanistan). That is just one of the things you deal with when in a combat arms MOS/AFSC. At least I can still hear; barely.

While at the range I always wear double hearing protection (earplugs and ear muffs) to protect what little hearing I have left. My recommendation for those that still have their hearing is to go with a very good set of muffs and a set of plugs as well. Otherwise you should learn how to read lips.

As far as the VA compensating you there are several ways to get rated. I had to bring in all my hearing tests (from meps all the way to the VA exit exam). This showed a dramatic change in my hearing loss. They now have a machine that can actually measure somehow whether or not you are lying about not hearing the tones. It can measure the movement of the eardrum or something. All I know is after I failed the VA tests they made me sign a form saying that if I failed there special machine I could be punished under the UCMJ (I was still on active duty on terminal leave doing a European out at Landstuhl VA office) for falsiying a statment or something to that weight. Anyway the machine showed I was telling the truth. VA rated me at 10%, but I challenged it and now have a 30% rating for it.

November 28, 2006, 11:52 PM
As already posted, soldiers are now issued hearing protection and have been for years. My first visit to SW Asia, I wore personal Sonic earplugs that permitted conversation but stopped loud noise. They worked well. Although some folks chose to wear nothing (they had plugs) and suffered loss.

Since then, there have been improvements in hearing protection including these:



In my 21 years of service, hearing protection was considered so important it was often part of the uniform. However, in combat the desire to hear unimpeded before the sudden big bangs often leads to personal sacrifices.


December 4, 2006, 08:17 PM
a pretty good writeup on the double sided (OD / yellow) DOD earplugs can be found here


December 5, 2006, 12:13 AM
By sheer coincidence, I am currently reading Blackhawk Down. In it, there is a line that mentions that Matt Eversman usually wore his earplus while on missions, but did not do so on the day the events in the book occurred. From that I infer that while use of hearing protection in actual combat situations may not be universal, at least some people choose to wear them.

The plugs with baffles work pretty well. The double-ended plugs issued by the military are very good. I am not in the military, but I've been using the plugs now sold by Surefire, which are excellent as well and a bit more comfy (although more expensive). If your hearing is mostly intact, you can hear well enough to clearly understand conversations with them, and of course they block the sudden, impulses of sound that are going to do damage. Could you hear a pin drop on the forest floor 300m away? Probably not, but there are always tradeoffs.

December 5, 2006, 12:46 AM
One problem with the new ACU's is that for most units earplugs are no longer part of the uniform, because even with all the pockets there is no real convenient place to put them that they won't get dirty, nasty, or damaged.

Also, even though lots of emphasis is placed on hearing protection during training, deploying soldiers are (at Ft. Lewis anyway, can't speak for everyone) issued one set. Combat arms guys get the new OD/Yellow plugs, everyone else gets industrial style baffle plugs. Also, most troops don't know how to install or wear them correctly. They are just told "here ya go, stick this in your ear". It shocked me to learn that there is in fact a specific insertion method to make them more comfortable and effective.

There is also, as mentioned before, the conveinence factor. Most troops simply want to hear what is going on around them. Especially on night operations when hearing becomes more vital.

As far as issuing better plugs or sound cancelling/selecting plugs and muffs, that is a unit purchase or individual item. The medics here have told us that before when we ask for them.

Most units keep several cases of the disposable foam plugs on hand, but it is not really high on leaders' priorty lists, unfortunately. It really is a personal choice to employ them anyway, whatever kind are provided.

I base that choice what the mission is. I wear mine when I am certain of shooting or severe noise, like helo's and track vehicles. If it is a regular logpac or supply push, where contact is possible (always), but not immenent, then I just keep them around. Like the others though, if the poop hits the ceiling, there's just not time to fumble with them.

As an addition, the new MCH/ACH helmet is not at all muff freindly.

December 5, 2006, 07:10 PM
Most Soldier's hearing loss, even in these days of frequent combat operations, is due to loud music.

All units I've been in require earplihs to be hung in a case from the BDU pocket or belt loop. All Soldiers are issued earplugs, have access to replacements... and rarely wear earplugs anyway except when on the firing range.

I myself have pretty considerable hearing loss from one incident when I was RSOing a .50 cal range w/o hearing protection. My own fault, of course.