The frustrating symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss—especially tinnitus—can be life altering. It makes it difficult to communicate with your loved ones and it changes your perspective on your life.
Since vets and soldiers are at a higher risk for noise-induced hearing loss or conductive hearing loss on active duty, you’re left to deal with these horrible symptoms on a daily basis. Treatment options and hearing conservation programs for hearing conservation can help but they’ll never compare to your original ability to hear and communicate.
We’re going to learn about the symptoms of hearing loss so you can determine if you’re one of the many vets with noise-induced hearing loss due to 3M’s incompetence and exposure to loud noise levels.
Symptoms of Noise-induced Hearing Loss
Like with age-related hearing loss, there are several symptoms of permanent noise-induced hearing loss, a type of sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is when loud noises, especially for long periods of time, damage the hair cells in your ears.
These hair cells in your inner ear are part of the process of moving sound waves through your ear to the auditory nerves. These auditory nerves send the sound waves to the auditory area of your brain to be translated and control the noise levels.
We’re going to go through each of these debilitating hearing loss symptoms so we can understand them together and how they impact lives.
Keep in mind that symptoms are different for each hearing loss sufferer. What you’re experiencing might be different than what’s listed. You should still head to a physician to be examined.
Distorted or Muffled Sound
The most common symptom of noise-induced hearing loss is when the sounds around you are distorted, muffled, and just hard to interpret. This is what makes hearing difficult and strenuous.
It’s often described as if your head is underwater, cotton is in your ears, or ear plugs are in your ears. This distortion can range from mild to severe, depending on the person.
This symptom can make it difficult to know where a particular sound is or even what that sound is.
This muffled sound can afflict just one ear, which is called unilateral hearing loss. Or you can be experiencing muffled sound in both of your ears, which is called bilateral hearing loss.
Difficulty Understanding Speech
Difficulty understanding speech is another common symptom of noise-induced hearing loss. It’s especially difficult when you’re surrounded by background noises or when the person talking to you is a few feet away from you.
There’s always been a strong correlation between noise-induced hearing loss and how it affects understanding speech.
In 2014, a study on rats found that those with moderate hearing loss from exposure to noises, could understand speech but the brain was slow to interpret it and had problems with high-frequency noises. Their brain cortex, however, had no noticeable changes.
Meanwhile, the rats with severe hearing loss from noise exposure had an even slower response to speech due to decreased reactions from the auditory nerves when they were stimulated by sound waves.
Feeling of Fullness in Ears
Part of what makes it hard to decipher different sounds is the feeling of fullness in your ears. This symptom is what makes sound distorted and muffled.
This feeling can cause discomfort in your ears. However, noise-induced hearing loss does not cause pain in your ears.
Tinnitus is the most debilitating symptom of noise-induced hearing loss. Tinnitus is often described as the perception of sound even though there’s actually no sound waves happening.
This perceived sound is different for every vet and soldier. Some hear a buzzing sound, a clicking sound, a hissing sound, a ringing sound, a whistling sound, or even a whizzing sound. That’s just to name a few.
For some vets, tinnitus only appears every now and then. For others, tinnitus can be a constant annoyance. It can occur in just one ear or both of your ears.
Tinnitus can cause insomnia since the sound can make falling asleep difficult. It also makes sufferers dizzy and nauseous. Headaches and a feeling of fullness in your head are common for those with loud and constant tinnitus ringing.
There are 2 types of tinnitus:
- Objective tinnitus is when a doctor can also hear the sound. A strange sound is being produced because of either a blood flow issue or muscle contractions. This is a very rare type of tinnitus.
- Subjective tinnitus is when only the person with tinnitus can hear the sound. This is the type of tinnitus almost all noise-induced hearing loss soldiers have.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for tinnitus though it very rarely disappears for some people.
There are a few treatment plans for vets and soldiers dealing with moderate to severe tinnitus.
A few of these treatment plans include:
- Noise suppression is a common treatment plan for tinnitus. This can include using a white noise machine at night to cover up the ringing in your ears so you can sleep. A masking device is a device that looks and fits much like a hearing aid. This device is constantly creating white noise in your ear to mask the tinnitus sounds.
- Certain medications are another treatment for tinnitus since they help reduce the tinnitus sound in your ears. A few of these medications include tricyclic anti-depressants and anxiety medications.
- There are counseling and support groups for people who deal with tinnitus. When tinnitus is acting up and making life difficult, it helps to talk to others who are experiencing the same thing. This helps with any depression or anxiety it may be causing you.
The Bottom Line
The symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss are no fun. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor to be diagnosed. The faster you’re diagnosed, the faster someone can help you manage these symptoms.