Research Paper Title
Repeated Occupational Exposure to Low-level Blast in the Canadian Armed Forces: Effects on Hearing, Balance, and Ataxia.
Recently, there has been increasing concern about the adverse health effects of long-term occupational exposure to low-level blast in military personnel. Occupational blast exposure occurs routinely in garrison through use of armaments and controlled blast detonations. In the current study, we focused on a population of breaching instructors and range staff. Breaching is a tactical technique that is used to gain entry into closed spaces, often through the use of explosives.
Initial measurements of blast overpressure collected during breaching courses found that up to 10% of the blasts for range staff and up to 32% of the blasts for instructors exceeded the recommended 3 psi exposure limit. Using a cross-sectional design, we used tests of balance, ataxia, and hearing to compare a sample of breachers (n = 19) to age-and sex-matched military controls (n = 19).
There were no significant differences between the two groups on the balance and ataxia tests, although the average scores of both groups were lower than would be expected in a normative population. The prevalence of hearing loss was low in the breacher group (4 of 19), and hearing thresholds were not significantly different from the controls. However, the prevalence of self-reported tinnitus was significantly higher in the breacher group (12 of 19) compared with the controls (4 of 19), and all breachers who were identified as having hearing loss also reported tinnitus.
The results suggest that basic tests of balance, ataxia, and hearing on their own were not sensitive to the effects of long-term occupational exposure to low-level blast. Some of the blast exposure levels exceeded limits, and there was a significant association of exposure with tinnitus.
Future studies should supplement with additional information including exposure history and functional hearing assessments. These findings should be considered in the design of future acute and longitudinal studies of low-level blast exposure.
Nakashima, A., Vartanian, O., Rhind, S.G., King, K., Tenn, C. & Jetly, R. (2021) Repeated Occupational Exposure to Low-level Blast in the Canadian Armed Forces: Effects on Hearing, Balance, and Ataxia. Military Medicine. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usaa439. Online ahead of print.