3M said Tuesday that it’s reached an agreement over lawsuits alleging its Combat Arms Earplug led to hearing damage and tinnitus. 3M will pay a total of $6 billion between 2023 and 2029 to settle the lawsuits filed against it and Aearo Technologies.
While the settlement is “intended to resolve all claims” associated with the earplugs, it’s “not an admission of liability,” 3M said in a press release.
“The products at issue in this litigation are safe and effective when used properly,” the company added. “3M is prepared to continue to defend itself in the litigation if certain agreed terms of the settlement agreement are not fulfilled.”
The earplugs at the center of the settlement are designed for noise reduction during combat and supplied to members of the US military from 2003 to 2015.
The dual-ended earplugs are made to filter noise down to two different levels, depending on how they’re worn. But lawsuits allege they had a defect that can loosen their fit in-ear, according to Drugwatch, which could affect how much sound they block and their effectiveness at staving off hearing damage. One study found that from 2001 and 2015, rates of tinnitus among active military service members went up.
Noise-related hearing loss and damage, including tinnitus, may be more common among members of the military and veterans if they’re exposed to unsafe levels of noise without adequate hearing protection.
What is tinnitus? Is there treatment?
Tinnitus is a condition characterized by constant, internal noise in one or both ears (most people have it in both). Typically, it’s a high-pitched “ringing” sound, but it can vary in pitch or tone and include sounds like hissing, roaring or clicking.
It can be brought on by other health conditions, but it’s often caused by hearing loss from exposure to loud noise, which over time damages the little nerve cells in the ear and results in a persistent ringing sound. For many people, it’s so mild it’s barely noticeable and doesn’t disrupt their daily life. For others, it can be severe, leading to anxiety, depression, problems sleeping or even physical pain. (Because hearing loss often happens gradually, tinnitus may be more common in older adults or in people who work with loud noise or are otherwise exposed to it every day.
There’s no “cure” for tinnitus, but there are treatments that can make it manageable and reduce the stress and negative feelings of the person experiencing it. The treatment will depend on the cause of tinnitus, but a tinnitus masker that covers up the tinnitus sound may be recommended by a doctor or audiologist. In other cases, a hearing aid may be prescribed for tinnitus treatment. Sometimes, something as simple as a white noise machine to play during sleep will provide relief.
But because tinnitus is so often associated with distress and negative emotions, therapy or counseling to help someone work through their stress response or association with the tinnitus can provide some relief, even if it’s through meditation or group therapy. There’s also something called tinnitus retraining therapy, which combines an ear device to mask the tinnitus with careful with therapy that helps the patient learn to ignore the noise and relax.
To find tinnitus management, look for an audiologist or other medical professional who specializes in hearing health. The American Tinnitus Association has a provider search.
To help prevent tinnitus, or prevent additional hearing loss, wear earplugs when you’re around loud noise. If your tinnitus is bothering you, or if you’re starting to notice signs of hearing loss, it’s important to get your hearing and ears checked.