In honor of Veterans Day, Signia explores the causes of hearing loss and tinnitus among veterans of the Armed Forces - and how to help them.

Treating Veterans with Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

Hearing loss and tinnitus are among the most common health ailments facing our nation's veterans. In honor of Veterans Day, learn more about the causes of hearing loss among veterans — and how to help them.

The brave people who have served in the United States Armed Forces have encountered some dangerous situations in the line of duty. But after they transition back to civilian life, many veterans face new challenges, often stemming from the physical and emotional damage sustained during their service. Among the most common health ailments facing veterans are hearing loss and the associated condition of tinnitus, the phantom ringing, buzzing, or humming noise heard in the ears.

The extent of hearing loss in veterans

Just how prevalent are hearing-related conditions among military veterans? A study conducted by the Journal of General Internal Medicine of 90,000 veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq reveals how many are affected by hearing loss. The report found that between 16.4 percent and 26.6 percent of male veterans and 7.3 percent to 13.4 percent of female veterans suffer from serious hearing loss and tinnitus. As this study only includes veterans who sought care from the VA, the actual number of veterans with hearing loss is likely much higher.

Why veterans are susceptible

Why are veterans at such high risk of developing hearing loss? Just consider the excessive noise military personnel are regularly exposed to. Common noise sources include explosives, artillery fire, jet or ship engine noises, helicopter rotors, and all of the other construction tools, machinery, and equipment they use on a daily basis. While the threshold for safe listening is 85 decibels, extensive exposure to sounds higher than this level (and the above examples can all far exceed that threshold) can do permanent damage.

The effects of exposure to high levels of noise can also cause tinnitus. Still, excessive noise isn’t the only contributor to tinnitus in military personnel. Other conditions that lead to tinnitus include head or neck trauma, high blood pressure, and certain medications. It’s estimated that tinnitus affects 841,000 veterans, making it the most widespread disability they report.

Helping veterans hear

Without treatment, hearing loss and tinnitus can take an emotional toll. The inability to hear properly and the constant annoyance of tinnitus can lead to frustration and social isolation, and impact a veteran’s personal relationships. So, what can be done to help them?

Hearing aids can provide veterans with solutions to both hearing loss and tinnitus. With properly fitted hearing aids, veterans can better hear the world around them. Meanwhile, many hearing aids also offer treatment for tinnitus, either playing soothing sounds to distract from the noise, or using advanced technology to minimize the symptoms altogether.

Veterans seeking treatment for hearing loss and tinnitus are encouraged to register via the health administration/enrollment section of their local VA medical center in person, online, or by mail and request a referral to an Audiology and Speech Pathology Clinic. Additional information can be found at: https://www.prosthetics.va.gov/psas/Hearing_Aids.asp.