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How A Multinational Company Made A Big Mistake For One Veteran

11/11/2021 | Hearing Aids, Hearing Loss, Patient Resources

With it now being November, we turn our attention to our military personnel and everyone who has served us in the past. November 11 is a day of remembrance for all their sacrifices.

It’s hard for me to read stories like this because it shouldn’t happen to anyone, let alone our veterans.

The big company in question here is 3M. They make earplugs that our military bought and issued to our troops. One such troop, U.S. Army veteran Mr. Adkins, has been permanently affected by this decision.

Due to these earplugs, Mr. Adkins has developed a severe hearing loss and tinnitus. He will have to manage this condition for the rest of his life.

Thankfully, our court system has not failed him and saw fit to award him with $8.2 million for damages caused. This is the third win in recent cases just like it against 3M. There are 259,000 outstanding cases involving veterans just like Mr. Adkins.

While I’m glad to see that these veterans are getting this help they need, I’d also like to point out that this could have been easily avoided with proper hearing healthcare education.

For that reason, I’d like to share my thoughts on hearing protection to help inform our communities in Massachusetts and beyond on the importance of taking care of your hearing.

Is Hearing Protection That Important For Noisy Environments?

In a profession such as the military, certain aspects will require people to be exposed to loud noises for an extended period of time. In these cases, hearing protection is a must.

It can be the difference between maintaining normal hearing and suffering permanent hearing loss.

Even if you are fond of loud hobbies, hearing protection should always be worn. Things as common as riding a motorcycle would warrant ear protection.

What Happens If You Don’t Protect Your Hearing?

This is a scary thought with a simple answer. If you allow your hearing to be damaged, it doesn’t heal. We cannot cure hearing loss, only manage it. We have the tools to do so, but prevention is still the best course of action.

Allowing your hearing loss to progress will make your hearing worse and bring in other conditions as well. Things like isolation, social withdrawal, and avoiding conversation are prevalent among people with a severe hearing loss.

Beyond that, if someone continues to neglect their hearing, they can develop cognitive issues as well. Depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s are common in elderly patients.

How Frequently Do Audiologists See Veterans?

While my heart goes out to Mr. Adkins and his family, I’m reasonably certain that he did not visit an audiologist at all throughout his time in the military. Why would he? He’s wearing government-issued ear protection.

Had he seen a professional, they would have told him that his hearing is in steep decline. The hearing professional may have noticed the problem with the earplugs before any serious damage was incurred.

I see veterans almost every day. Anytime I see a patient who mentions they have served in the military, we discuss the noise exposure when they were enlisted and if hearing protection was worn. Having this data helps me create a plan for the future to mitigate any further damage.

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How Could The Military Let 3M Provide Such A Poor Product?

Unfortunately, the military thought this was a properly functioning earplug when 3M knew it wasn’t. They failed to disclose a defect they noticed.

When wearing foam earplugs, the placement of them is crucial to get complete protection. 3M noticed a flaw in their design that required users to fold a flap back, which would seal the leaks. They never told anyone about this detail.

If you or someone you know served in the military during the time these earplugs were worn, it is vital to have your hearing checked to see the status of your hearing.

If you are experiencing a hearing loss or tinnitus symptoms, it is even more important to have your ears checked. I recently tested a veteran whose agent sent him in for testing to be included in the class-action suit.

What Does The Future Hold For Hearing Protection?

I hope this causes the manufacturers of hearing protection to thoroughly test their equipment before letting individuals use it. I hope they take their role seriously in maintaining and protecting people’s hearing in the healthcare system.

On the other hand, I hope people don’t look at this and think that earplugs don’t work or are too hard to use. The use of hearing protection should be much more common than it is.

I think this will push manufacturers to step up and do more for hearing protection moving forward, which overall should have a positive impact.

When Else Should You Wear Hearing Protection?

Any occupation that has consistent levels of noise should have mandatory hearing protection protocols. Industries like manufacturing, construction, and any other occupation utilizing heavy equipment should consider using hearing protection even if it isn’t compulsory by their employers.

Other lesser-known fields that cause hearing damage are dentistry, hairdressers, and occupations that require people to wear headphones all day.

We often see patients from these fields with a hearing loss. Matching the right hearing protection to the right noise exposure can be critical to the comfort and success of the hearing protection.

Are You A Veteran Or Do You Know A Veteran With A Hearing Loss?

Even if don’t believe you’ve incurred damage to your hearing, we encourage all veterans to have their hearing checked by a professional.

Dealing with hearing loss sooner rather than later is always recommended to lessen the underlying risks of cognitive decline, falling, and to improve their lives through improved day-to-day communication.

What Are The Next Steps?

Our comprehensive hearing assessment is the best first step to prevent and delay hearing loss progression. We advise everyone in our Massachusetts communities to get a check-up.

If you have any questions regarding our assessments or anything else hearing related, then please call us anytime. Our team is standing by to help whenever you’re ready. Don’t wait too long; your hearing is essential to you, your family, and us.

Do you know somebody that needs to see this? Why not share it?

Nancy Duncan, Au.D.

Dr. Nancy Duncan graduated from Somerset High, Somerset, MA in 1991 and received her B.S. in communication disorders and psychology from Worcester State College. Her master of science in audiology was awarded at the University of Arkansas in 1997, after which she worked for several private audiology practices in Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Returning to the area in 2003, Dr. Duncan founded Duncan Hearing Healthcare, allowing her to apply her passion to her community through rehabilitative audiology and individual patient care. She earned her clinical doctorate in audiology degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (now Salus University) in 2005. Her passion for her family and community is an integral part of what drives her to provide trustworthy, professional hearing healthcare to her patients.

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