A recent Department of Veterans Affairs study found 1,157,585 veterans dealing with hearing loss and 1,786,980 additional veterans suffering from tinnitus. Veterans are subject to some of the world’s loudest noises, including gunfire, emergency sirens, machines and loud equipment, jet engines, artillery, and explosions.
Every part of life is affected by hearing loss. It interferes with communication, leading to misunderstandings that can drive a wedge between loved ones. Living with hearing loss also leads to social isolation. The person with hearing loss is ashamed to ask friends to repeat themselves or is careful not to mishear something and respond incorrectly to a question. Tinnitus impacts your ability to get a good night’s sleep, concentrate on assignments, or have a peaceful night with your loved ones. You’ll feel more irritable from a continuous ringing or clicking sound in your ears.
Noise and the military: a perfect storm.
There is so much hearing loss in the military because, in general, some of the noisiest working conditions in all professions are found in the armed forces.
Troops spend most of their day in or near the army or marines in heavy equipment such as tanks or transport carriers. Add the occasional sounds of gunfire and explosions to this, and you have a formula for hearing loss and tinnitus.
Tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss.
Let’s look at both hearing loss and tinnitus disorders separately and how our veterans are affected by them.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) refers to hearing loss over the long term due to repeated exposure to elevated noise levels. Hearing loss from noise exposure is mostly incremental, caused by excessive noise exposure. But in conflict situations, while standing near an explosion or some other extreme sound blast, for example, it may also be instantaneous.
If you encounter NIHL, then your inner ear hair cells have been negatively affected by the noise. These cells’ capacity to gather and transmit sound to the brain is consequently reduced. NIHL is, sadly, permanent. The hair cells of the inner ear which pick up sound cannot be replaced.
Tinnitus describes the sense of hearing a sound when there is no real sound. Ringing, whooshing, screaming sounds are common signs of tinnitus. Veterans with tinnitus can find that it prevents them from concentrating or sleeping well.
Though explosions and firearms noise are common occupational hazards for military personnel, the tragedy is that hearing loss, and tinnitus for our heroes is not inevitable – It is entirely avoidable.
Aware of the high numbers of hearing loss candidates in their ranks, the good news is that high-quality hearing protection is now a common issue and mandatory for all active-duty service members.
However, this wasn’t always the case. The defense contractor 3M recently agreed to pay a 9.1 million settlement to the Federal government. This was in response to claims that it provided hearing protection to the military even though it knew that the plugs were “too short to insert properly into the ears of users and that earplugs could be easily loosened.”
For years, the Minnesota-based 3 M Corporation and their former Aearo Technologies company sold these defective earplugs to the Department of Defense.
Check your hearing regularly.
There are many reasons why it can be challenging for a military veteran to reintegrate into civil society, but the hearing loss doesn’t have to be one of them.
Our veterans hearing health is no doubt in better hands today than a few years ago. However, as long as the armed conflict includes bullets, rockets, and heavy equipment, hearing loss is likely to remain common among veterans.
The best medicine is prevention, so anyone suspected of hearing loss should get a hearing test to see what treatments for their specific condition are available. Many modern hearing aids, for instance, have specific characteristics that help reduce tinnitus and help enhance hearing in noisy conditions.
A crucial part of maintaining your hearing health is regular hearing checks. If you are a veteran with a nagging feeling that your hearing is failing, give us a call. Hearing aids today are discreet and technologically advanced, so treatment doesn’t have to be delayed. Contact us today for more details and a hearing test.