Noise-induced hearing loss and permanent hearing loss are more common injuries in military veterans and soldiers than even PTSD. Because of long periods of unavoidable loud noise exposure in a combat environment, it’s fairly common to end up with this type of hearing loss, especially without hearing protection.
Our mission is to learn all about noise-induced hearing loss and the ramifications on vets and soldiers. We want to help you and all the other vets that served, been exposed to loud sounds, and used 3M ear plugs and still ended up with hearing loss.
We’re going to learn all about noise exposure in this article, from what can cause it, to the treatments choices you have today.
What Is Noise-induced Hearing Loss in Vets and Soldiers?
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a type of sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss (SHL) is when there’s substantial damage to your inner ear or the hair cells in your inner ear.
Like with age-related hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss is a sub-type of sensorineural hearing loss. The hair cells in your inner ear are damaged from exposure to loud noises. These loud noises can be a one-time occasion that caused damage or damage that was caused over time while being constantly exposed to extreme noise levels.
The hair cells in your inner ear are an important part of the hearing process but are destroyed through noise exposure. They help to send to the sound waves you hear to your inner ear. In your inner ear, these sound waves are moved to the auditory nerves.
These auditory nerves send the sound to the auditory parts of your brain. Then, your brain translates the sound to a message you understand.
So, with damaged hair cells, the sound can’t pass through to your inner ear. This is what causes the muffled sound so many with hearing loss describe. You’re hearing the sound but it isn’t being fully processed by your brain.
Causes of Noise-induced Hearing Loss
The cause of noise-induced hearing loss is pretty simple. The damage to your hair cells in your inner ear is caused by loud noises or constant exposure to loud noises.
Soldiers in training or serving are dealing with exposure to loud noises daily. You can’t get away from it, which is why prevention is key.
Exposure to these common loud noises can cause noise-induced hearing loss in vets:
- Weapons and firearms: Most guns when used leave a loud sound, usually over 120 decibels. As we know, you’re using various weapons throughout your military service, from guns to grenades.
- Ship engine, jet engine, and carrier deck noise: If you work in an engine room on a ship, you’re at high risk for hearing loss later on in life.
- Fighter planes, jet planes, and other aircraft: Again, the engine noises can cause noise-induced hearing loss down the road. The engines of air crafts can get high in decibels.
- Jet propulsion: Certain jet fuels that are used in the military alongside engine noises have been known to increase your risk for hearing loss.
How Diagnosis of Noise-induced Hearing Loss Happens
In order to get diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss, you will need to go to your physician. Your physician may refer you to a specialist, such as an audiologist.
Your physician will first give you a physical exam to rule out any physical causes of your hearing loss. This may include x-rays to rule out any growths or tumors in your ears.
Once a physical cause is ruled out, you may be given different hearing tests to determine what might be causing your hearing loss.
Some hearing tests include:
- Audiometry: An audiometry test is used to see if you’re having issues hearing different frequencies. This test will run frequencies from low to high.
- Auditory brainstem response testing: An auditory brainstem response test is used to test how long it takes for a sound to move from your ear to your brain so you can translate what you’re hearing.
- Pure Tone Testing: Pure tone testing helps determine the faintest of each frequency you can hear. They do this by testing each one of your ears by using headphones.
- Speech testing: After you’ve done the pure tone test, you will more than likely be asked to take a speech test. A speech test helps your doctor determine how well you can hear and understand speech at different sound thresholds. You’ll be asked to repeat the speech you hear.
- Electrocochleography: Electrocochleography testing is used to determine if you have Meniere’s disease and other similar disorders. This test is used to determine how well your cochlea works when you hear sounds.
Treatments in Noise-induced Hearing Loss
There is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss. However, there are a few treatment plans that can help you hear better and improve your lifestyle.
A few of the treatment plans include:
- Hearing aids: Hearing aids are the most common treatment course your physician will bring up. Hearing aids will amplify sounds so you can hear faint sounds easier without straining. There are three main different types of hearing aids for different types of hearing loss.
- Cochlear implant: A cochlear implant is used when your hearing loss is severe and not responding to hearing aids. This surgery implants electric devices in your inner ear or the cochlea. These devices use electrical pulses. The electrical pulses are sent through your ear and stimulate your auditory nerves. There are a few different types of implants that focus on different areas of your ear.
The Bottom Line
Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and it can be scary. It’s so common in vets, it’s recommended you get your hearing tested if you’re having issues hearing or you believe you’re dealing with tinnitus.
If you’re a veteran and suffer from these conditions but can’t afford an audiology test, you may qualify to get a free audiology test and legal representation.