When you’re in the military, you can be exposed to some incredibly harmful levels of noise. Between weapon systems and explosions, many believe that individuals in the military are exposed to the “most intense sounds that can be found in any occupation.” That’s why, as part of their standard-issue equipment, servicemen and servicewomen receive earplugs. These aren’t just any earplugs you can pick up at the store. Rather, they’re specially designed to dampen or completely block out sound.

For more than a decade, between 2003 and 2015, 3M supplied the United States military with standard-issue earplugs. However, there’s evidence to suggest that 3M’s earplugs were defective. What happens when earplugs don’t work? Military personnel can suffer from a lot of serious injuries – including something called tinnitus.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition where you hear a sound, despite the fact that there is no external sound. It’s literally all in your head. It’s often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” because, for many, that’s what it is. A constant or intermittent ringing inside the head. For others, the sound is more like a buzz, hiss, whistle, hum, or chirp.

The ringing – or whatever sound you experience – tends to be most noticeable when you’re somewhere quiet. For many, that’s when they’re lying in bed at night and there’s a very limited amount of background noise.

If you’ve ever been exposed to a loud noise, you’ve probably experienced a very mild form of tinnitus. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus every year.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus can happen for a variety of reasons, including infections, medications, underlying health conditions, blockages in the ear canal, or old age. However, the most common cause of tinnitus is exposure to loud noise. It can result from prolonged or extended exposure or one extremely loud event.

Specifically, tinnitus occurs when “input from the auditory pathway (cochlea, auditory nerve, brain stem nuclei, auditory cortex) is disrupted or altered in some manner.” This disruption can create new neural connections or fundamentally change how existing connections work. The end result is ringing in the ears.

Tinnitus is associated with temporary and permanent hearing loss. Additionally, many individuals who suffer from tinnitus experience psychological and emotional trauma. This is particularly true for military veterans who are already susceptible to conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.

3M Earplugs and Tinnitus

The military is inherently dangerous, for many different reasons. One of those reasons is the level of noise exposure. It’s believed that the maximum level of sound a person can safely be exposed to is 140 dB. All modern military weapon systems exceed that level. So, it’s no surprise that hearing loss and hearing-related conditions are the second-leading cause of disability for military veterans and personnel.

Earplugs are supposed to protect servicemembers when exposed to loud, explosive noises. However, the 3M earplugs that were provided to military servicemembers between 2003 and 2015 might not have offered much, if any, protection, at all. This is particularly true for individuals deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, or the Indian Ocean during this timeframe.

How were the 3M earplugs defective? There is evidence to suggest that the earplugs didn’t fit into the ears properly because they were too short. So, there was no tight seal in the ear canal. Without that tight seal, dangerous levels of noise and sound can get through and cause a lot of damage, including tinnitus.

During testing, the company discovered that a portion of the earplug had to be folded over to create a tight seal. However, 3M failed to pass that information along to the government or the military. So, military servicemembers were given these earplugs without proper instructions. Thousands have sustained severe injuries, including tinnitus, as a result.

You Could Be Entitled to Compensation For Your Tinnitus

Are you a former military servicemember? Do you, or have you, suffered from tinnitus or other hearing-related issues? Were 3MCombat Arms Earplugs part of your standard-issue military equipment? If so, you might have a legitimate claim for damages against the manufacturer.

3M has already agreed to pay more than $9.1 million to the government to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit. Now veterans are taking matters into their own hands and filing lawsuits to recover much-needed compensation. The only way to know if you have a claim is by contacting an experienced 3M earplug injury attorney to discuss your case. There’s a limited amount of time to assert your rights, so give our firm a call today.