Tinnitus is a “phantom noise” that signals the existence of a root medical problem, such as damage to the ear. Commonly characterized as a medical condition, this description is inaccurate. Rather, tinnitus is strictly the “perception” of ringing or noise in the ear — not an actual medical condition in and of itself.
The frequent ringing associated with tinnitus surfaces as a common complaint among military veterans who served between 2003 and 2015. These soldiers were issued 3M’s Combat Arms version 2 Earplugs to protect their ears from the high-level noise arising from gunfire, explosions, aircraft, machinery, and the like.
Unfortunately, the earplugs proved to be defective, failing to prevent the harmful noises from entering soldiers’ inner ears. When a whistleblower exposed the earplugs’ defects, the U.S. government sued 3M and received a $9.1 million settlement.
Now, veterans are filing individual lawsuits against the earplugs’ manufacturer to compensate for hearing loss and tinnitus suffered by veterans who wore the earplugs during their service.
According to Ear and Hearing, the official journal of the American Auditory Society, almost 10 percent of the adult population suffers from tinnitus. That being said, several risk factors contribute to the likelihood of a person experiencing this condition, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety disorder; and high cholesterol, per the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation.
Tinnitus is more likely to occur in males, the elderly, and non-Hispanic whites, as well as military veterans. However, the single, most manageable risk factor for the condition is long-term exposure to noise, such as firearms and explosions.
To stop servicemembers and veterans from suffering hearing loss, the government issued the CAEv2 for over a decade. 3M promised a superior, adaptable form of hearing protection, and the company failed to deliver.
Tinnitus happens when tiny hairs in your inner ear break or bend. In a normally functioning ear, these tiny hairs move in sync with sound waves as they enter the ear. When they move, they send electrical signals through the auditory nerve and on to the brain. But when the tiny hairs have been damaged, they release random signals to the brain, thereby causing the ringing noise associated with tinnitus.
Different people experience different perceived noises from tinnitus. The sounds can be different, as well as their intensity, duration, and frequency. The most commonly reported sounds include:
For each type of noise, the pitch can be low or high, and the frequency can be constant or occasional.
Tinnitus symptoms can seriously disrupt a person’s life, interfering with productivity, and diminishing the quality of their everyday experiences. Some of the documented consequences of this condition, according to Mayo Clinic, include:
There is currently no known cure for tinnitus.
The government is well aware of the negative consequences of tinnitus, and they put a good deal of faith in the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs to protect troops from these negative consequences.
The military had the right idea. After all, medical experts agree that a top strategy for preventing tinnitus is to use some form of hearing protection. They just—unknowingly—chose a defective product to execute the idea. Now thousands, if not millions, of veterans suffer hearing loss and tinnitus as a result.
If you are one of the many veterans who now struggles with tinnitus after using 3M’s dual-ended earplugs during their service—or perhaps you are a civilian who used the earplugs at work—you may be entitled to seek compensation for your losses from 3M, the manufacturer.