A new study published in the January issue of the medical journal Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery strongly recommends better hearing protection for soldiers to prevent permanent long-term hearing loss that can be caused by exposure to the sound of gunshots.
The study measured the impact of "impulse noise" (short bursts of acoustic energy) on 80 subjects with no history of hearing disorders by using short-term exposure to the impulse noise generated by five gunshots from a kbk AKMS rifle, commonly known as an AK-47. In the study, soldiers using hearing protection did not have their hearing affected. Soldiers without hearing protection experienced the expected levels of hearing loss. Common estimates are that 10 to 15 percent of soldiers returning from active military service without the use of hearing protection develop acoustic trauma.
The study recommends the military adopt hearing protectors that will muffle the most harmful frequencies while still enabling soldiers to communicate with each other. The study's authors recommend the use of noise-reducing earmuffs for that purpose.
The study's purpose was to determine what effect prolonged exposure to gunfire could have on soldiers. The authors note that most military personnel are young and at the beginning stages of their careers, and would be negatively impacted by a loss of hearing as they enter the civilian work force.