Perhaps you know somebody who has served in the military, and maybe even a war hero who suffered injuries. While data on hearing loss and tinnitus in the military is scarce, they are the two most reported service-related disabilities. Yet, this serious side effect isn’t on the public radar like visible physical injuries or psychologically devastating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of course, it’s only recently that PTSD has been ingrained in the public conscience as a terrible consequence of war.
of individuals with blast-related head injury suffer from hearing loss
Retired Army Capt. Mark Brogan suffered a nearly severed arm, as well as spine and brain damage from a suicide bomber in Iraq, yet he feels that his hearing loss and tinnitus are just as debilitating. Unlike horrific amputations and other obvious wounds, hearing loss is a silent and invisible side effect of serving in the military. Of course, for the vets who hear constant ringing in their ears, it isn’t silent. Stephen Carlson already had hearing loss from his first tour of duty in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb mangled one ear and eardrum in 2009. Six years later, he decided to undergo surgery and get cartilage grafts. After a difficult period of adjustment and rehab, he can hear again in his damaged ear.
Veterans with previous head injuries often have symptoms that are similar age-related hearing loss. They seek care because they have trouble understanding speech in noisy settings, following rapidly spoken or long-running speech, and difficulty hearing on the telephone. Hearing loss and tinnitus are more likely to result from a blast-related head injury than any other type, affecting as many as 60% of these individuals. Yet, individuals with non-military mild head injuries often report similar hearing issues. The following common co-occurring disorders were revealed in a 2017 study on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans:
veterans were receiving disability benefits for hearing loss or tinnitus in 2018
Individuals with a prior TBI who complain of auditory difficulties should always be evaluated for a potential auditory processing disorder, even when their injury occurred several years prior to the evaluation. Veterans who suffer from hearing loss can access a full range of hearing services at VA medical clinics, including diagnostic testing, counseling, implantable devices, and state-of-the-art hearing aids. This is important because untreated hearing loss can exacerbate or lead to mental health issues already associated with serving in the military, such as PTSD and depression. As of March 2018, more than 2.7 million veterans were receiving disability benefits for hearing loss or tinnitus, so don’t hesitate to contact the VA to see if you or a loved one qualify.
Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Just like you rely on your favorite mechanic to keep your car engine running smoothly, establishing and maintaining a good relationship with a highly-rated licensed hearing care professional is key to keeping your hearing aids in optimal working condition.
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