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Common Causes of Hearing Loss in Soldiers and Vets

Veterans and those on active duty or have served in the military are at a higher risk of developing permanent hearing loss, especially as hearing protection is often overlooked. There are several causes of hearing loss while on duty, from bombs to firearms.

Most of these causes are unavoidable in the military service due to loud noises, but there are situations in which the right protection would have helped prevent the majority of your hearing complications. These preventable measures the military and 3M could have helped you with.

If you believe your hearing loss is due to your duty and service or post-traumatic stress disorder, we hope this article helps you. We’re going to go over the top common causes of hearing loss in soldiers and vets today.

Common Causes of Hearing Loss in the Military

There’s not just one cause of hearing loss while training or on duty in the military service without hearing protection. In fact, there are multiple reasons your hearing might be impaired while you were serving. Being in the military means you’ll be subjected to noise pollution on a constant basis.

Exposure to Weapons and Firearms Noise

As a soldier, regardless of the branch of the military you were in, you were being trained on different weapons and firearms. This includes grenades and bombs. Exposure to the constant sound of certain military weapons can cause devastation on your eardrums.

When you’re exposed to any noise that is over 140 decibels, you’re at risk for loss of hearing. Most firearms and weapons, even the smallest of guns, create a sound that’s well over 140 decibels.

Weapons that make high decibel noise can cause high-frequency hearing loss. High-frequency hearing loss simply means you have difficulty hearing noises at higher frequencies, usually frequencies that are 2000 hertz or higher.

This can include trouble hearing:

  • Women or children’s voices
  • Talking in noisy areas
  • Consonant letters in speech

Exposure to Ship Engine Noise and Carrier Deck Noise

If you were in the navy, chances are you were exposed to the ship’s engine through the engine room. This includes anyone who has been exposed to long term engine noise, regardless of being in the military.

A study back in the ’70s measured the noise level of 3 Indian Naval ships. They found the highest level of noise was found in the engine room at a high level of 112 decibels.

78% of the crew that worked in the engine room had some type of loss of hearing later on in life. Only 46% of the rest of the crew ended up with hearing loss.

Another study, in 2009 of Norwegian merchant ships, found that the majority of the damaging noise level in the engine room was from the safety valves.

Exposure to Fighter Planes, Jets, and Other Air Crafts

Just like those in the navy, soldiers involved in aviation are at high risk for hearing loss due to loud and noisy engines. Jet engines alone can produce up to 160 decibels in sound.

The longer you’ve worked as a pilot, you’re at a stronger risk for high-frequency hearing loss or tinnitus.

Tinnitus is very debilitating for sufferers. It can make concentration difficult and intrude on hearing speech and sounds. Some soldiers only experience tinnitus is one ear while others experience it in both ears.

Tinnitus is often a symptom of hearing loss that causes buzzing, hissing, or ringing in the soldier’s ears. There are other causes for tinnitus and you can have tinnitus without hearing loss.

There are 2 distinct types of tinnitus:

Objective tinnitus is when anyone close to your head can also hear the noise produced in your ears. Objective tinnitus is very rare and is usually caused by blood vessel issues or muscle contractions.

Subjective tinnitus is when only you can hear the noise in your ears but others can’t. This type of tinnitus can be caused by many factors.

The sounds can either be constant or they come and go. It also can get worse as you get older since the nerve fibers in your ears decline as you age.

Exposure to Jet Fuel

Believe it or not, exposure to jet fuel can also cause hearing loss in soldiers. Unlike the other causes of hearing loss, jet fuel exposure hearing loss isn’t just a noise-induced hearing loss.

Instead, it’s due to exposure to the chemicals in jet fuel, particularly military grade jet fuel, alongside the loud engine noise. This combo of factors increases your risk of hearing loss and tinnitus.

This combination can also cause other health risks besides just hearing loss.

Jet fuel fumes can damage neurological pathways in your brain that helps your brain decipher speech and language.

When you hear someone speaking, your ears send that message to your brain through auditory nerves. The auditory center of your brain translates the speech or sound so you can understand it.

A study in 2014 found that a specific type of jet fuel, kerosene-based jet propulsion fuel-8, caused dysfunction to your brain stem. Your brain stem is one of the many pathways that send sounds to your brain.

A soldier with this kind of dysfunction can still hear sounds; they’re just unable to understand or translate language and speech. Often, soldiers with this hearing issue have difficulty explaining what’s going on with their hearing.

The CDC found that JP-8 isn’t the only type of jet fuel that causes hearing problems. JP-5 and Jet A fuels can also cause dysfunction to your brain stem. Just like JP-8, they’re kerosene-based jet fuels. All three of these jet fuels are commonly used in military jets and commercial jets.

Hearing Loss & Tinnitus Treatment

There are no cures known for these conditions today, but you may be able to alleviate certain conditions. Additionally, as advancements in medical science develop for hearing loss and/or tinnitus, documenting your condition in advance with the VA may make you eligible for treatments in the future.

Remember: hearing loss and tinnitus are permanent conditions that greatly affect your quality of life – and these conditions tend to get worse over time. This is why it is especially critical to document your hearing loss and/or tinnitus with the VA or a private audiologist so that your particular condition can be studied over time.

The Bottom Line

Hearing loss in soldiers and vets have various causes but each one of you is susceptible to hearing issues. It’s important to take these issues seriously and get diagnosed as soon as possible.

If you believe that your hearing loss or tinnitus has been caused by any of these types of military exposure while using 3M ear plugs, we are here to help you.