Aging and exposure to loud noises are the two most common causes of hearing loss in the U.S. While we are all exposed to noise in our daily lives, those who work in loud professions are most at risk. This is especially true for those who have served or are currently serving in the military.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
The ear has three parts. The outer ear captures soundwaves from the environment and funnels them down the ear canal. They hit the eardrum, creating a vibration that is passed through the bones of the middle ear until they reach the inner ear. Within the inner ear are delicate hair cells responsible for converting the vibrations into electric impulses. These impulses are passed through the auditory nerve to the brain where they are interpreted as sound.
Sounds are measured in decibels (dB). Anything over 85 dB can cause damage to these delicate hair cells, leading to permanent hearing loss.
Noise Exposure in the Military
The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs estimates that more than 60,000 military members are on disability for hearing loss and tinnitus from their work over the last 20 years. Experts suspect this is because of service members’ exposure to dangerously loud noises from loud machines and firearms.
Hearing Loss in Decline
While hearing loss and tinnitus are prevalent in veterans, this trend seems to be shifting. With the creation of the Hearing Conservation Program and the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence, the rate of noise-induced hearing loss amount active-duty service members is decreasing.
Dr. Theresa Schulz, the center’s prevention branch chief explained, “For service members and civilians enrolled in hearing conservation programs, hearing health is improving in the Department of Defense. Evidence of this is seen in an overall decrease in hearing impairment for all DoD components.”
In 2012 the rate of hearing impairments in service members was 21%; that number decreased to 15% in 2018. According to Schulz, a “primary goal of the program is to bring visibility to an invisible but preventable injury – noise-induced hearing loss.” To learn more about how to protect yourself from hearing loss or to schedule an appointment with a hearing professional, contact Hearing Services of Santa Barbara today.