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Molded Communication Earplugs in Military Aviation

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INTRODUCTION: Radio communication remains important for the delivery of safety-critical information in military aviation. Pilots are exposed to high noise levels. Noise attenuation provided by certain helmets is not sufficient, and resulting noise exposure can deteriorate operational effectiveness and flight safety. A need for hearing protection that enables efficient communication is obvious, especially for fighter and helicopter pilots. One possible solution for this issue is molded communication earplugs (m-CEP). Data about the advantages and disadvantages of m-CEPs are limited.

METHODS: To determine the usage rates, advantages, disadvantages and pilot opinions about m-CEPs, an anonymous survey study including 31 questions was conducted in fighter, fighter trainer, helicopter, and transport aircraft units of the Finnish Defense Forces.

RESULTS: Of the pilots who responded, 136 (93%) had used or tried m-CEPs and 90 (62%) were currently using them. There are many benefits to m-CEPs: they seem to enhance experienced speech intelligibility, since 85% of the pilots who had experience about them reported improved speech intelligibility under difficult hearing conditions, and 93% would recommend them to other pilots. It seems m-CEPs provide equal benefits to pilots with and without current hearing problems. They were also considered better than previously used hearing protectors. Still, problems were common: 82% of the pilots reported m-CEP related drawbacks, of which technical problems and discomfort issues were the most prevalent.

DISCUSSION: Most military pilots hold a positive opinion on m-CEPs and are willing to recommend their use. Technical problems and discomfort issues are, however, relatively common.

Lahtinen TMM, Leino TK. Molded communication earplugs in military aviation. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2015;86(9):808–814.

Keywords: earplugs; hearing protection; noise; pilot

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Clinical Medicine, Unit of Otorhinolaryngology and Ophthalmology, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland

Publication date: September 1, 2015

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  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

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