Over 120,000 veterans and soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have experienced a debilitating hearing loss, and it is the NUMBER ONE REPORTED INJURY AMONG ALL VETERANS. 

As a soldier in a war zone, your ears were under constant assault.  The obvious offenders were gunfire, heavy machinery, artillery, explosions, and many other sources. Any one of these noises may have caused you to experience permanent hearing loss. 

The most common form of veteran's hearing disability is called tinnitus, or noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).  Tinnitus results when the cochlea is damaged.  When the hair cells lining the cochlea become damaged they are no longer controlled by the ear and begin to move at random. The result is the presence of a buzzing, ringing, and/or hissing noise that is not physically present. 

Researchers have determined the limit of time a soldier can be exposed to a certain decibel (dB) level before experiencing damage to their hearing. And depending on the level of noise you were exposed to, it's possible that you may be a veteran with permanent hearing loss:

--Any exposure greater than 8 hours to a noise level of 
85dB or above can be the cause of   permanent hearing loss. 

--Any exposure greater than 30 seconds to a noise level of
115dB or above can be the cause of permanent hearing loss.  

--Normal gunshots range from
135dB to 145dB, and almost any form of artillery greatly exceeds these decibel levels.

These findings clearly explain why so many veterans return with varying levels of hearing loss, and depending on the level of noise severity you were exposed to, it's possible that your hearing loss has qualified you for veteran's disability benefits

NIHL is particularly important for veterans who were involved in active combat, because the full extent of a hearing disability may not be immediately known or noticeable.  NIHL is often a gradual and debilitating disability that may set in gradually after a soldier returns from overseas. 

What Symptoms are Associated with Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Ringing, buzzing, hissing and other 'ghost' sounds are the primary symptoms associated with tinnitus or NIHL.  A soldier or veteran may initially notice a decrease in their hearing, having to ask someone to repeat themselves, struggling to hear a television, or discern meaning from verbal cues.  Over time, their hearing disability will continue to increase in severity. 

What Type of Treatment is Available for NIHL or Tinnitus?

There is not a permanent fix or treatment that can 'cure' NIHL.  Doctors often prescribe hearing aids to veterans, or suggest 'white-noise' machines and/or masking devices to help with the ringing and buzzing.  In certain instances, anti-depressants may be prescribed to help the veteran cope with the hearing disability. 

James R. Keller
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