Returning home from duty, veterans face many challenges, especially those who have served in combat zones. Among them, is hearing loss – ranking among the most prevalent health issues for recently returning and former solders. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 933,000 veterans have received compensation for hearing loss and more than 1.3 million veterans are receiving disability benefits for tinnitus. Beyond hearing loss and tinnitus, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) affects a high number of veterans who were exposed to blasts. APD impacts the brain’s ability to understand speech despite the sufferer being able to register sounds normally. While injuries to the ear or brain may cause physical damage, a communication breakdown with loved ones may be the greatest casualty of hearing loss.
Special risks for soldiers’ hearing
No matter where they train or deploy, soldiers face environmental factors that can be harmful to hearing. BioMed Central’s Military Medical Researchers looked at which environments were the loudest and biggest threat to noise-induced hearing loss. They found that the impact of noise on hearing in the military varies among the branches of service.
Yet almost every soldier, sailor, airman or marine will be exposed to very high levels of noise from:
Weapons – shotguns, rifles, pistols, grenades and anti-tank weapons
Engine rooms and carrier decks of navy vessels
Helicopters, fighter planes, transport aircraft and various jets
Jet propulsion fuel
For some, a single explosion with sounds exceeding 140 dB can cause irreparable damage instantly. This sort of acoustic harm to the ears can result in permanent hearing loss.
For others, longstanding exposure to dangerous levels of noise can contribute to ear damage over time. Chronic exposure to high sound levels may lead to changes, such as sensorineural hearing loss that soldiers don’t notice immediately.
Why veterans should address hearing loss
Many people associate hearing loss with the elderly. However people of all ages can lose their hearing – especially if they have had extraordinary exposure to noise. This is one instance when silence isn’t golden. Hearing well means communicating well. Think about it, if you can’t listen:
How can you engage with your loved ones completely?
Can you understand your colleagues or customers or participate fully in the workplace?
How can you really enjoy your favorite music, movies or television? Sure, closed captioning or subtitles may help but it’s not the same as hearing the intonation in voices.
Unlike the loss of sight, hearing impairment is usually more gradual. You may miss bits and pieces of sentences, but you think that your brain can fill in the missing information. Yet sometimes, the brain guesses wrong. You may believe you comprehended the information when you actually misunderstood it. This can lead to needless conflict and unpleasant rounds of “he said – she said.”
New research on veterans and hearing loss
In 2019 the Journal of Neurotrauma published an article focus on how blast exposure impacts hearing loss, "Blast Exposure Impairs Sensory Gating: Evidence from Measures of Acoustic Startle and Auditory Event-Related Potentials." Between 2000 and 2017, nearly 380,000 service members have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) which lead to brain-related deficiencies. People with TBIs report that hearing impairment is among the most common symptom. One of the challenges that this study looked at was "sensory gate impairment" (the brain's ability to filter out superfluous information so it can focus on what's important). This study found that veterans who had been exposed to high-intensity blasts resulting in TBIs were more likely to have sensory gate impairment.
This isn't the only area of research regarding solders and hearing-related problems. For more information on studies related to VA health care and hearing loss, see the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research (NCRAR), which has multiple studies underway.
Are you eligible for hearing aids from the VA?
Good news: if you qualify for VA Health Benefits, you may be entitled to hearing aids. Healthy Hearing has outlined what you need to know about the VA and hearing aids. For specific information about your benefits, please contact the VA by phoning 1-877-222-VETS.
Stylish options for veterans
For anyone needing hearing aids, design matters. If you have a hearing deficit, these devices may provide a vital service to your well-being just like eyeglasses aid your vision. As with glasses, you want hearing aids to fit well while looking great. Today’s models come in many colors and styles so we can be sure to match you with the best hearing aids for your individual lifestyle.
Hearing loss is nothing be ashamed of and hide. But if you choose to, we offer many discrete hearing aids that are hardly recognizable to the naked eye. Whether you wish to wear a stylish mini-computer that sits subtly behind your ear or you hide your hearing aids in the ear canal, there are plenty of options.
Thank you for your service! It's time to focus on your needs now!
At HearingLife we offer free hearing assessments* for veterans and non-vets alike. If you have concerns about your hearing or that of a loved one, we are happy to discuss your options with you. Make an appointment today to get started.