Veterans and Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Since the early 2000s, upon returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, many veterans have complained of two conditions: hearing loss and tinnitus. Statistics indicate that about 60 percent of all veterans returning from conflict zones experience hearing loss and tinnitus. Since hearing loss is one of the most widespread military service-related injuries and has a significant effect on our veterans' lives, the Department of Veterans Affairs has made a substantial contribution to research into hearing loss.

Exposure to Dangerous Decibels

Noise-induced hearing loss happens during duty when our servicemen and women are exposed to harmful noise levels, whether in short bursts, single incidents, or over a prolonged period.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that the maximum limit for 8 hour work days is 85 decibels. Some sounds in the workplace that reach 85 decibels – whether it's carpentry, dentistry, factory work – may possibly cause permanent loss of hearing. Therefore, the louder the sounds, the less time it takes to harm the ears.

Hearing experts warn us that exposure to harmful sound rates could permanently harm our inner ear hair cells, which are responsible for absorbing sound waves and converting them into neural signals for transmitting to the brain. Hair cells may be permanently impaired and do not regenerate due to exposure to excessive noise.

Service people in the armed forces are exposed to a wide range of dangerously loud sounds while in the field, which then results in a higher number of cases of hearing loss and tinnitus.

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Hearing Protection for Military Personnel

The first step to avoiding hearing loss is to ensure that the proper hearing protective devices are given to our servicemen and women. Earplugs could reduce noise by 30 decibels, which is a considerable amount – particularly when noise levels in conflict zones well exceed the safe upper limit of 85 decibels. While they aren't the best options in a military environment, a reduction of 30 decibels is especially helpful with a steady grinding in the background like a Blackhawk helicopter's thrum.

Nevertheless, even with this understanding of hearing loss and the protection offered by generic earplugs, many service members tend not to wear them. There is one primary reason: they miss other softer sounds occurring around them. And this is especially relevant for service members who have to be on alert for sound clues that might indicate an upcoming ambush. For many which excess noise has already taken its toll, adequate hearing protection may not have been an option.

The battlefield noise environment can change very rapidly. Service members require hearing protection that allows them to hear and prevent quiet sounds when things get loud. In a conflict scenario, soldiers depend on their hearing to help them decide what to do as things speedily escalate on the field. For example, a routine patrol could unexpectedly come under fire without warning. Nevertheless, proper hearing protection and tactical earplugs are necessary. They protect the ears of service members while still providing them access to the sounds they need to hear while in the field.

Hearing Loss & Return to Civilian Life

Veterans face many different obstacles when returning to civilian life, and hearing loss is one of the most common issues. Hearing loss, if left untreated, does permeate into many different areas of a veteran’s life. In particular, employment and interpersonal relationships can be affected if hearing loss is left untreated.

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Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss

The Department of Veterans Affairs does offer hearing health services, as well as the opportunity to connect with a local hearing health provider. Learn more about your different options at the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.

At Revolution Hearing, we are proud to provide mobile hearing services to our veterans. If you are a veteran and think you may have hearing loss or tinnitus (“ringing of the ear”), please contact us today. We offer comprehensive hearing health services in the comfort of your own home and we look forward to serving you!