Posted on: November 1, 2011

At this time of year it is important to stop and remember the many sacrifices our veterans have made for us.  Many of these sacrifices will be with our veterans for the rest of their lives. Hearing loss is one such sacrifice that often gets overlooked by the public, family and friends, and even the medical profession. Indeed, hearing loss is the number one disability affecting veterans.

It is not surprising that veterans have been exposed to excessive noise both on and off the battlefield. Being in the military is a noisy career by nature. Years of exposure to noise from jet and ship engines, explosives, artillery, and gun fire take their toll on one’s hearing. It is not just older veterans that are experiencing noise induced hearing damage. Many of our current soldiers are coming back with hearing loss as well. There are several reasons for this. Some of the noise they are exposed, such as blast noise, is so loud that standard earplugs cannot reduce the volume to safe levels. Also, many soldiers refrain from using earplugs on the battlefield as they need to hear their colleagues and commanders. If there is a silver lining it is that technology is improving and the military is experimenting with headphones that can both block out noise and let speech pass through. However, for the foreseeable future at least, noise induced hearing loss will continue to be a problem the military grapples with.

A result of all this noise exposure is hearing loss and tinnitus, a debilitating ringing in the ears. These are permanent conditions that have a long lasting effect on quality of life. We see many service men and women in our office who can no longer enjoy a family conversation around the dinner table because they cannot hear what is being said. Many of these men and women also experience tinnitus, a condition that can be even more difficult than hearing loss to cope with. This constant ringing in the ears is very difficult to ignore and makes it nearly impossible to concentrate on anything else. We have seen a great deal of veterans in our clinic who are at their wits end and feel their family, friends, and physicians do not understand the debilitating nature of their hearing loss and tinnitus.
Fortunately, much more is understood about these conditions today then even a decade ago. Hearing health care professionals are trained to help people cope with hearing loss and tinnitus. We would encourage any veterans who are experiencing these conditions to seek the counsel of an Audiologist or Hearing Specialist. Bring a spouse or family member along as well. Sometimes half the battle is getting family to understand the seriousness of hearing loss and tinnitus so that they can better help their loved ones cope with these conditions. The important point to remember is that there is help available. No one should have to live with a lower quality of life because they have hearing loss or tinnitus, especially not our veterans who have already sacrificed so much.