Hearing Loss - A Common Injury Among Veterans

Captain Mark A. Brogan, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2005-2007), suffers from noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.

“I was injured by a suicide bomber at close range, on April 11, 2006, while leading a foot patrol in Rawah, Iraq,” he told to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). “My hearing was substantially damaged. My first hearing test was not till a few months after my injury. The test results showed that my right ear had been perforated and sustained severe to profound damage and the left severe…The inner ear was so damaged that my vestibular system was damaged and my balance and dizziness were horrible.”

Captain Brogan’s experience with hearing loss is one of many among veterans. Since the early 2000s, service people have reported both hearing loss and tinnitus after returning from combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Statistics show that approximately 60% of all veterans returning from combat zones have reported cases of hearing loss and tinnitus.

Because hearing loss is one of the most common military service-related injuries and it dramatically affects the lives of our veterans, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has substantially contributed toward hearing loss research. In fact – it was after World War II that hearing loss was first explored in depth.


Exposure to Dangerous Decibels & Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when we are exposed to dangerous levels of noise, whether in short bursts, singular events, or over a long period of time. For members of the military – as well as 60% of the American workforce – noise-induced hearing loss is a leading occupational hazard.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advises that sound louder than 85 decibels, for 8 hours, is the safe limit. Any sounds that exceed 85 decibels in the workplace – whether it is carpentry, dentistry, factory work – could potentially cause permanent hearing loss. Additionally, the louder the sounds, the less time it takes to harm your hearing.

Hearing specialists tell us that exposure to dangerous levels of sound could permanently damage our inner ear hair cells, which are responsible for receiving amplified sound waves and translate them into neural signals to send to the brain. Due to exposure to loud noise, hair calls could be permanently damaged and do not regenerate. This leads to sensorineural hearing loss.

What could be done to protect the hearing of the members of our military?


Combating in Hearing Loss – A Report from the Podcast 99% Invisible

Roman Mars, host of the podcast 99% Invisible, reported in 2016, “The US Marine Corps buys a lot of foam earplugs. Visit any military base and you’ll find them under the bleachers, at the firing range, in the bottoms of washing machines…they are cheap and effective at making noise less noisy.”

Earplugs could reduce noise by 30 decibels, which is a significant amount – especially when noise levels in combat zones greatly exceed the safe upper limit of 85 decibels. Though they are not the best option, Mars says, “In a military situation, a reduction of 30 decibels is especially helpful with a steady grinding background din such as the thrum of a Blackhawk helicopter.”

However, even with this knowledge of hearing loss and the protection generic earplugs provides, many members of military prefer not to wear them for one simple reason: “they miss other important (softer) noises happening around them.” And this is particularly important for members of the military who must be on alert in their surroundings.

Dr. Eric Fallon, interviewed for this report, tells us, “The noise environment of the modern battlefield can change very quickly. Service members need hearing protection that allows them to hear quiet noises and protects them when things get loud. In a combat situation, soldiers depend on their hearing to help them figure out what to do when things escalate quickly on the ground. A routine patrol, for instance, may suddenly come under fire without warning.”

As a better solution to foam earplugs, Dr. Fallon recommends tactical communication and protective systems (TCAPS). These simultaneously protect hearing of service members while also delivering sounds they need to hear. The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs are looking into further research to support the use of TCAPS in the military.


Veterans Addressing Hearing Loss

If you are a veteran and are experiencing hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing of the ear), contact us at Sound Hearing Group today. We provide comprehensive hearing testing, and if a hearing loss is detected, our team will provide customized hearing aid fittings to meet your needs.