Hearing loss is a pervasive chronic condition that reduces the ability to absorb and process sound. Veterans are particularly vulnerable to developing hearing loss as a result of exposure to loud noise. Hearing loss and tinnitus – a buzzing or ringing-like noise in the ears – disproportionately impacts veterans. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that veterans are 30% more likely to develop hearing loss than nonveterans. Additionally, 3 million veterans received disability compensation for hearing healthcare related to tinnitus and/or hearing loss management in 2017. Hearing loss and tinnitus can be effectively managed so that you can navigate daily life with greater ease.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss & Veterans
Hearing loss can be caused by several factors including loud noise. One time or consistent exposure to loud noise can damage critical parts of the auditory system which is how we hear and make sense of what we hear. Specifically, loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. There are thousands of hair cells in each ear that work to translate incoming soundwaves into electrical signals. These signals are then carried to the brain where they are further processed and assigned meaning to; allowing us to understand what we hear. Loud noise can overwork these hair cells, causing them to lose sensitivity and/or die. Unlike other types of cells, hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. We are born with all the hair cells we will ever have and there are no medical interventions to restore them. This means that any damage is permanent, resulting in hearing loss.
Sound is measured in units referred to as decibels and noise that exceeds 85 decibels is considered potentially dangerous for hearing. 85 decibels is the equivalent of busy city traffic or household appliances like a blender. Veterans are exposed to noise exceedingly above 85dB which significantly increases their risk of developing hearing loss. This includes:
- Operating and being in large aircraft carriers, helicopters, fighter jets, transportation planes etc.
- Weapons including: shotguns, rifles, grenades, bombs
- Armored vehicles, tanks, working in noisy engine rooms
- Operating heavy, and loud equipment
These sources of excessive noise are hazardous for hearing health and cause veterans to experience an increased risk of developing hearing loss.
Hearing Loss Symptoms
It is important to recognize changes to hearing health. Early intervention can significantly help with the transition into better hearing and enhanced wellness. The most common symptoms of hearing loss include:
- Sounds are slurred or muffled, making it difficult to distinguish words
- Asking others to repeat themselves, speak loudly, and/or slowly
- Ability to hear more clearly in one ear compared to the other
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices
- Struggling to hear in environments with background noise
These symptoms can be mild to severe, taking a toll on daily life by straining communication. This can lead to social withdrawal, impact mental health, job performance, relationships etc. Treating hearing loss alleviates these symptoms and improves health outcomes. Prioritizing hearing health, especially for veterans, is a critical way to protect hearing and general wellness.
The VA & Hearing Loss Benefits
Being aware of the benefits that you are eligible for as a veteran is useful while connecting to hearing healthcare resources. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers two services for veterans who have hearing loss and/or experience tinnitus:
- VA Health Benefits: this can range from free or low-cost hearing health care and includes testing for hearing loss, and benefits for hearing aids.
- VA Disability Benefits: monthly compensation that can be used towards hearing healthcare costs
Veterans are required to enroll in the VA’s health benefits program which you can do by contacting your local VA office. After being approved, you can have your hearing assessed by a hearing healthcare specialist.
Treating Hearing Loss
After identifying the benefits that you can use, the next step is simple: schedule an appointment for a hearing test. This involves a noninvasive and painless process that measures hearing ability in both ears which identifies any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you could be experiencing. Once your hearing needs are established, your provider is able to recommend the most effective treatment options to meet those needs!