Tinnitus affects at least 1 in 10 adults and is the most common disability reported among military veterans. It’s not an easy thing to explain but most people who suffer from tinnitus describe it as a ringing or buzzing in the ears, a high-pitched whistle, and many other sounds. Tinnitus is a very personal condition that affects everyone differently. For some people, it comes and goes. For others, the tinnitus sound seems permanent and can really have bad effects on happiness and quality of life.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus usually isn’t a sign of anything serious but it can be extremely bothersome and can really affect your well-being. It’s commonly secondary to another underlying condition like an injury, blood pressure, and blood flow, or another form of hearing loss.
Tinnitus is defined as hearing sound when there is no external sound present and has been described in a lot of different ways: ringing, clicking, buzzing, humming, hissing, and even roaring.
These sounds are often referred to as “phantom noises” and range in pitch from low to high tones. They can appear in one or both ears and persist continuously or can come and go. Depending on how you experience tinnitus, it can really interfere with your ability to hear other sounds and concentrate on both important and routine tasks.
The most common type of tinnitus is subjective meaning it’s something only you can hear. It can be caused by a number of things including problems in your inner, middle, or outer ear, auditory nerve, or the auditory pathways in your brain. There are some common causes of tinnitus including inner ear hair cell damage, general hearing loss, and exposure to loud noise which is believed to be the cause for most veterans.
What Are Risk Factors for Developing Tinnitus?
There are a lot of things that increase the risk of developing tinnitus but one of the biggest factors is exposure to loud noises. This is why it’s so common among those in the military to develop tinnitus, especially those in combat who are exposed to tanks, heavy machinery, explosives, and gunshots on a regular basis.
It’s important to take tinnitus prevention seriously. Using hearing protection to prevent hearing damage is essential. The military provides standard issue hearing protection so make sure that you use it during combat or any other situation where you might be exposed to loud noises.
How Is Tinnitus Treated?
Because tinnitus is the most prevalent disability reported by veterans, the VA takes an interdisciplinary approach to treating it. Since there are so many possible causes and no known cure, treatment focuses on helping veterans cope with living with it as best they can.
While a large percentage of people who experience tinnitus just aren’t that bothered by it, there are a lot of people who have a hard time coping and suffer from insomnia and a lack of focus and concentration. Lack of sleep combined with stress and anxiety can really make it a struggle to cope day to day. This is why tinnitus and mental health conditions occurring together should be taken very seriously. Studies have been done that show veterans suffering from both tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more affected by it than those without PTSD and are not able to cope as well.
RELATED ARTICLE: Living With Hearing Loss: A Veteran’s Story
One of the primary treatment methods for tinnitus is called Progressive Tinnitus Management. It was designed after taking into consideration years of trails and studies to help address the needs of veterans suffering from tinnitus while using the resources available to the VA. Veterans work with a team of clinicians to come up with a way to manage the symptoms, they’re experiencing to them more bearable. The program uses a five-leve approach: triage, evaluation, group education, interdisciplinary evaluation, and individualized support.
Another treatment currently being studied is transcranial magnetic stimulation. In this procedure, a magnetic coil is held against the skull. It gives off repetitive electromagnetic pulses that reach the brain cells and can change their activity. The hope is that this will include a reduction in how the brain perceives sound.
Is Tinnitus Classified as a VA Disability?
The VA uses various standards to check for hearing loss. Testing includes speech recognition and a pure tone threshold test. The results are then used to calculate the percentage rating to determine the disability you’re entitled to.
With tinnitus, it’s a little different. It’s hard to prove tinnitus because it’s something that only you can hear. Still, since tinnitus is often linked to general hearing loss, there are tests that can be performed. Tinnitus testing includes speech recognition, a pure tone audiogram, acoustic reflex testing, and tympanogram.
You’ll also have to have a statement explaining where and when you were exposed to loud noises that could have led to developing tinnitus. If you were involved in combat and experienced a large fire, were exposed to explosives, or worked with heavy machinery, these can all be used as a reason you may have developed tinnitus. It is absolutely essential that you are able to show a link between your military experience and the exposure to the noises and symptoms that lead to the development of tinnitus.
The VA rates most disabilities on a scale from 0 to 100% depending on the severity of the symptoms and their impact on your life; however, tinnitus has a maximum rating of 10% no matter how bad it is. If it occurs in conjunction with hearing loss or a traumatic brain injury, you may get additional benefits but they won’t be because of the tinnitus itself.
Prevention and Preparation
The best thing soldiers can to do avoid getting tinnitus is to make sure to always use ear protection or shield their ears as best as possible when loud noises are occurring. Tinnitus cannot be cured but it can be prevented which is why ear protection is standard issue in the military.
If you’re experiencing tinnitus that’s really affecting your quality of life and you want to get the VA benefits you deserve, make sure you’re prepared to prove your case. Documentation is key and you have to strongly prove the connection between your experience in the military and the exposure that could have led to your tinnitus.
If you face challenges with the process, you may need legal assistance from a lawyers experienced in this type of personal injury case.