Are you listening?

Most people think of hearing loss as a consequence from exposure to loud noises over a long period of time and afflict only the elderly.

What if you’re a 20-year old Soldier about to fire your weapon on the range?

Do you have your ear protection on?

More than 15 minutes of exposure to the noise of a lawn mower or a blow dryer, about 90 decibels, can cause hearing loss, according to the Department of Hearing Center of Excellence.

It takes 155 decibels of noise (similar to a jet engine roaring to life) to create immediate, irreversible damage to someone’s hearing. Ten decibels below that, firing a weapon without hearing protection is the most common reason Soldiers lose their hearing, according to Maj. Dan Ohama, Fort Bragg’s Army Hearing Program manager.

“A Soldier can go through a firing range and sustain the same amount of (hearing) damage in one day as it took someone in a factory in 10 years,” said Ohama.

Hearing loss can limit what a Soldier does, whether in training or combat.

“The Soldier would not be able to perform duties as a radio telephone operator. For an infantry Soldier on patrol, he may have to be watched while he was on a security call where Soldiers may have to detect soft or distant sounds,” Ohama pointed out.

If there was a significant degree of loss, the Soldier may be identified as being non-deployable or even separated from service.

Ohama wants to make sure this doesn’t happen in the first place.

His weapons of choice to battle hearing loss? Unit briefings, annual hearing tests and ear protection.

Ohama recently briefed Soldiers from 1st Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade about the necessity of wearing ear protection. After the briefing, squadron medics and Army Hearing Program audio techs examined Soldiers’ ear canals to ensure a proper fitting of ear protection. Ohama also briefed Soldiers on the proper way to wear earplugs and checked each Soldier after their fitting.

Maj. Justine Tripp, 525th BfSB brigade surgeon saw first-hand the effectiveness of the Army Hearing Program unit briefing.

“It’s a great way to educate the Soldiers in trying to protect their hearing so they’re not going to have problems later on.”

Tripp said when she treated Soldiers with ear injuries such as damaged tympanic membranes in the emergency room at Womack Army Medical Center; they were usually due to not wearing ear protection when a weapon was fired.

The firing range is another ideal place for ear protection training, said Ohama. As part of the safety checklist, range safety officers must brief Soldiers on wearing ear protection before firing.

“We had to call a cease fire because a Soldier did not have ear pro,” he said.

The goal of the Army Hearing Program is 100 percent compliance for all units at Fort Bragg, said Ohama.

“Whenever we do see a lack of awareness or lack of emphasis, then we’re able to focus our efforts so we can change that. Especially when commanders know that we’ve been meeting these requirements that the Soldiers have the proper equipment and training. It’s easier for them to provide the emphasis and to follow up when something goes wrong,” he said.

Prevention is key to stopping irreversible hearing loss in Soldiers.

“It’s already too late if we’re trying to figure out what is wrong. If this is going to happen next week, let’s fix it today,” Ohama added.

If Soldiers think they have hearing problems, they should visit their primary care physician, said Ohama.

For more information about the Army Hearing Program, call Ohama at 643-1974 or email dan.f.ohama.mil@mail.mil.