Tinnitus and hearing loss top list of US veterans’ health issues

Military veteran salutes the flag

Tinnitus and hearing loss top list of US veterans' health issues

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the first and second most common health challenges veterans face aren't from visible injuries, PTSD, or loss of limbs. Instead, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss are the No. 1 and 2 health conditions experienced by military veterans as recorded by VA medical centers.

Veterans with hearing loss: by the numbers

  • The VA estimates that more than 59,000 military members are on disability for hearing loss from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom alone.
  • In 2016, an additional 190,000 veterans were diagnosed with service-connected tinnitus, and 103,000 were diagnosed with hearing loss.
  • Also in 2016, over 1.6 million veterans received disability compensation for tinnitus and there were 1.1 million compensation recipients for hearing loss.
  • A total of more than 2.7 million veterans currently receive disability benefits for hearing loss or tinnitus.
  • The CDC reports that veterans are more than 30 percent likely to have severe hearing loss than civilians, and more than four times as likely if they served after September 2001.

Veterans with hearing loss face additional challenges

Many veterans who have hearing challenges also have additional diagnoses, often for anxiety or depression, and veterans who suffered hearing loss as a result of blast trauma also often present with PTSD.

To complicate matters, many veterans who score normally on regular hearing tests have trouble understanding speech. This condition is known as auditory processing disorder or central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) and is also often associated with blast exposure.

Most of the hearing loss and tinnitus incurred by military service members are due to noise exposure from aircraft, gunfire, heavy equipment and roadside bombs. Those working in airplane hangars, or in enclosed spaces with high frequency noise from electronic equipment also frequently suffer loss of hearing in certain ranges.

Veterans with tinnitus often report hearing a constant ringing, hissing or buzzing in one or both ears. This constant sound disruption can make it impossible for them concentrate or sleep, leading to fatigue, depression, and an inability to function socially or for work.

Sensory problems are common among veterans who have had traumatic brain injury (TBI). In a 2012 report on a previous study of 21,000 Veterans evaluated for TBI in VA outpatient clinics, nearly 10 percent reported vision problems, while over 30 percent reported hearing loss or tinnitus. Almost 35 percent reported both issues. Many veterans with TBI related hearing issues pass basic hearing tests, but are unable to process what they hear, leading to difficulty in communication.

A 2015 NCRAR study of 99 veterans exposed to blasts in Iraq or Afghanistan revealed that while all had "clinically normal" hearing, all had issues hearing clearly and comprehensively when faced with difficult listening situations, such as being in a room with multiple people speaking at once, or trying to make out conversation over background noise.

Hearing loss prevention

Traditional earplugs can effectively prevent hazardous noises from entering the ear canal. However, they can interfere with being able to hear speech or low-level combat sounds, which makes them a bad choice for those doing mission critical tasks. Level-dependent earplugs have a filter that allows soft noises to be conveyed at full strength, but can suppress high-frequency or strong, sudden noises.

Earmuffs create an airtight barrier around the entire ear and can be a good option for blocking intermittent exposure to noise. Military-grade earmuffs often contain internal communications systems to permit conversation while blocking out noise from aircraft.

Noise-attenuating helmets can protect from hearing loss, crash impact, and eye injury while still allowing communication through built in radio and an additional earplug microphone. Noise cancelling technology makes these ideal for combat or search and rescue operations.

Preventing hearing loss is now being paid more attention by the U.S. Military and Veterans who have incurred hearing impairment are finding solutions with Veteran Benefits applying in many cases to cover the cost of diagnosis and appropriate hearing aids.

AccuQuest delivers state-of-the-art technology and superior patient care, and dispenses the largest selection of hearing aids from multiple top brand manufacturers, with each solution customized specifically to each patients' unique needs, lifestyle and budget.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the first and second most common health challenges veterans face aren’t from visible injuries, PTSD, or loss of limbs. Instead, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss are the No. 1 and 2 health conditions experienced by military veterans as recorded by VA medical centers.