US troops are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with epidemic rates of hearing damage, AP reports, with 128,000 disabled by permanent hearing loss or tinnitus, ringing in the ears. The nature of the current conflict is part of the problem, with roadside bombs and sudden ambushes giving troops no chance to use protective equipment. "They can't say, Wait a minute, let me put my earplugs in,'" said a Navy specialist. "They are in the fight of their lives."
Troops are also wary of using earplugs out of fear that dulling their senses while on patrol could be a fatal mistake. The Navy and Marines have begun distributing high-tech earplugs with digital processors that block out damaging sound waves and still allow users to hear everyday noises. The catch: They cost $600 a pair. Most troops are still issued the $8.50 kind.