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3M Earplugs: What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Thousands of former service members across the nation have begun filing lawsuits againt 3M, the company they claim is responsible for personal injuries suffered as a result of using defective 3M CAEv2 earplugs during their time in the armed forces. As noted in filed claims, many of those injuries are related to noise-induced hearing loss.

As a profound and permanent injury, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can impact lives in the most serious of ways. As some vets describe the condition, it can be a scourge on daily life, their relationships and ability to communicate, and their enjoyment of various activities.

If you or someone you love is currently struggling with noise-induced hearing loss stemming from military service and use of CAEv2 earplugs, Bailey Cowan Heckaman PLLC is available to discuss whether you might have a potential claim, even though 3M has attempted to shield itself from claims via bankruptcy. We also want to provide those now exploring their options with information about NIHL, its relation to the military, and the rights of service members.

How Hearing Works: The Basics

Hearing is one of the most important senses we have, and how we experience sound is quite complex – beginning with sound waves that enter the outer ear, travel through the ear canal, and transmit vibrations to the middle ear which and the cochlea, where tiny hair cells trigger electrical signals in the auditory nerve. Those signals are interpreted by the brain as the sounds we know and understand.

The intricate workings of our ears aren’t impervious to damage; there are many things that can cause us to lose hearing, from certain types of medical conditions and medications to the simple process of aging. There is one cause of hearing loss that is preventable, however: Noise.

Harmful Noise Exposure

The sounds we experience can range widely depending on who we are, where we live and work, and what’s happening around us. For the most part, the sounds we hear on a daily basis are at safe levels which pose little if any risk to our hearing, such as the sound of our cars, the television, or another person talking. Some noises, however, can be loud enough to cause irreparable damage.

Measured in a unit called “decibels,” sound is considered safe when it is 75 decibels (dB) or less. Even after chronic exposure, sound from a humming refrigerator (45 dB) or your typical conversation (60 dB) are unlikely to cause any harm. However, sounds at 85 decibels or more can cause damage. That includes a lot of things, such as:

  • Heavy city traffic (85 dB)
  • Motorcycles (95 – 100 dB)
  • Headphones playing music at full volume (105 dB)
  • Sirens (120 dB)
  • Fireworks / firearms (150 dB)

While there are many factors behind NIHL, the duration of exposure to harmful sound and your distance from its source can be important. The longer you’re exposed to dangerous noise levels, and the closer you are to where that noise comes from, the more likely you’ll experience at least some NIHL.

How Harmful Sounds Damage Hearing

Long and loud noises can damage the tiny hair cells (called sterocilia) in the cochlea, which are critical to creating the electrical signals our brain then interprets as recognizable sounds. When damaged, those hair cells eventually die, and unlike hair cells in other species, they do not grow back.

NIHL can generally arise in one of two ways:

  • Gradually – When exposure to harmful noise is prolonged and chronic, causing damage and degradation of hearing over time; or
  • Suddenly – When a person is exposed to extremely loud, sudden bursts of sound, such as an explosion or gunshot.

Both forms of noise exposure can result in permanent hearing loss, and while some loud noises can cause temporary hearing loss which seems to go away on its own, experts suggest there is often residual long-term damage to hearing. Additionally, these harmful sounds can result in tinnitus, a condition characterized as the perception of ringing or buzzing in the ears, which is the brain’s attempt to transmit electrical signals from damages hair cells in the ear.

NIHL and the Military

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) lists workplace exposure as the most common origin of noise-induced hearing loss. People who work in construction, mining, and agriculture, for example, are often exposed to harmful noises as a part of performing their daily job duties. The same is undoubtedly true of those who serve in the military.

According to the VA, hearing loss is the number one reason vets file for disability compensation. The VA also employs the most audiolgists of any employer in the U.S. These stats highlight just how often vets are exposed to harmful noises in the course of their enlistment, and how loud and harmful those noises can be. Some examples include:

  • Firearms and heavy weapons;
  • Ballistics, explosions, and blasts;
  • Large and loud machinery;
  • Large vehicles, aircraft, and helicopters;
  • Sirens, alarms, and other similar sounds.

Just as employers take steps to protect their workers from harmful noises on the job, the U.S. military also has protocol for protecting military members’ hearing. Most essentially, that means hearing protection and the required use of standard-issue earplugs.

As we’ve noted in our lawsuit againt 3M, however, earplugs supplied to the U.S. military over recent years did not always work as intended, or as the military was led to believe – specifically the 3M combat earplugs. In a federal False Claims Act case filed against 3M, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged, among other claims, that:

  • 3M earplugs were defectively designed in a way that made them ineffective for hearing protection;
  • 3M knew about the defects, but continued to knowingly supply the U.S. military with faulty earplugs; and
  • 3M failed to include appropriate warnings for its earplugs.

The result of these alleged failures (over which 3M paid the federal government $9.1 million to settle) was that numerous military members had little to no hearing protection against the loud and very harmful noises to which they were exposed during their service, firearms training, tours of duty, and other military activities. In turn, many of those vets suffered irreparable hearing damage, and extensive losses throughout their post-service lives.

Seeking Compensation: 3M Military Earplug Lawsuits & Your Rights

Manufacturers of defective products can be held liable for designing, manufacturing, and marketing faulty products that cause consumers harm – especially when they knew, or should have known, about defects and potential risks, but did nothing to address them.

For military veterans struggling with the long-term effects of noise-induced hearing loss, the fight for justice and fair compensation is both one of principles (holding bad actors accountable) and real need (paying for damages, covering future expenses, and recovering compensation for pain and suffering). At Bailey Cowan Heckaman PLLC, our legal team is actively investigating and handling cases from vets who believe they are suffering noise-induced hearing loss and other conditions as a result of 3M earplugs.

Learn more about 3M military earplug lawsuits and your potential claim. Call or contact us online for a FREE consultation. BCH proudly serves vets and families across Texas and the United States.

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