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When we talk about the health of our returning servicemen and women, it is imperative that we talk about hearing problems. The number one and two health conditions for military veterans in the US are tinnitus and hearing loss, according to Medical Centers of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Hearing loss and Tinnitus
Let’s look at both conditions separately and how they affect our veterans.
The main type of hearing loss they have is called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This is being a loss of hearing from to excessive exposure to high noise levels over a long period of time, but it can also be caused by a short burst of loud noise (something frontline soldiers obviously have much experience of). If you experience NIHL, your inner ear hair cells have been adversely affected by noise exposure. Subsequently, the ability of these cells to collect and distribute sound to the brain is decreased. NIHL is irreversible, unfortunately. When noise exposure has damaged the hair cells of the inner ear, it is not possible to restore them.
Hearing loss could lead to depressions, social isolation and eventual cognitive decline as it makes it harder for returning servicemen and women to maintain relationships with friends and family members.
Tinnitus is the term for the feeling of hearing a sound when no external sound is present. Tinnitus symptoms include ringing, whooshing, humming, or shaking of the ear. Veterans with tinnitus could discover that it prevents them from focusing or sleeping.
Why hearing protection is important
Loud exposure–usually from firearms, aircraft, tanks, heavy equipment and roadside bombs–is the cause of most hearing losses in the military. Military personnel generally face these hearing problems after exposure to loud noise such as working in a hangar or being in close proximity to an explosion.
This is why hearing protection is so important. It’s commonly though that hearing protection inhibits vital communication and situational awareness. But with the most advanced hearing protection, soldiers do not need to make the choice to either protect their ears or their lives.
Those on active military duty will need more specialized hearing plugs than the ones usually found at the drug store. Traditional ear plugs effectively stop dangerous noise from accessing the ear canal, but they can tamper with receiving mission-specific communications. However, earplugs which use a filter can convey soft noises with full force and still remove bursts of noise.
The good news is that hearing protection is now standard issue and mandatory for all active-duty service members. But you also have to be careful with where you get your hearing protection.
This year, a defense contractor recently agreed to settle claims in a deal worth $9.1million for providing U.S. services with earplugs which it knew to be faulty, even though they knew that the plugs were “too short to insert correctly into users ‘ ears and that earplugs could be loosened easily. The Minnesota-based 3M Company and their former company Aearo Technologies sold these faulty earplugs to The Department of Defense for years. That is not to say that the current earplugs currently used by the military are also defective, but for peace of mind, we recommend getting a custom-fitted pair.
If you already have hearing loss due to your military service, there is help at hand.
Evergreen Audiology is proud to offer hearing health assistance through The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Treatment extends to hearing tests, examinations and hearing aids. Contact us to find out more information about whether you qualify.
For those about to set off on active military duty, we are also experts in military hearing protection. As an active duty audiologist based at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, MD, Dr. Lawson learned a great deal about protecting military servicepeople from the loud sounds they might encounter in the course of their duty.
We offer custom hearing protection devices that will help you protect your hearing on the battleground. Our filtered hearing protection can deaden loud noises while also improving ambient sounds that are necessary for your situational awareness. Before you fly out, make sure to contact us to get your pair fitted.