Advanced Hearing Aids Increase Veterans’ Readiness to Confront Hearing Loss

Thanks to cutting-edge hearing aid tech and sleek designs, treating hearing loss is becoming more respected and accepted among veterans.

Throughout my 13 years as a heating and air mechanic in the US Army, I experienced some of the ways service can impact health and well-being from battle wounds and repetitive stress injuries to mental health.

Today it’s common for veterans to seek treatment for a variety of issues and concerns, but hearing loss remains an unseen threat, carrying the stigma of an issue traditionally related to aging.

However, due to significant advances in hearing aid technology and small, sleek designs, along with an increasingly technology-forward society, hearing loss treatment is becoming more respected and accepted among veterans young and old.

A Complicated Challenge

Based on our understanding of both acute and chronic hearing conditions, military personnel are instructed and encouraged to use proper hearing protection across a range of duties and to abide by standards intended to limit exposure to damaging noise levels.

And yet, up to 18 percent of service members seek help for hearing-related issues.

Among veterans, hearing loss often results from trauma — with high frequency hearing loss being the most common. The outer layer of our cochlea is responsible for hearing at high frequencies while the ability to perceive low frequencies is situated deeper within the canal. As a result, the high frequencies are much more exposed when there’s noise trauma.

The high frequency trend is also true of the general population, but with veterans specifically, I often find their hearing loss is on one side or the other, not both. Soldiers often remove their hearing protection on one side to communicate more easily, either via radio or in person.

Permanent hearing loss can result from a single overly loud noise such as an explosion or gunfire, but it can also build over time due to long-term exposure to noise levels that feel comfortable in the moment but place undue stress on the ear. Therefore, hearing loss develops over time and becomes more common with age.

Active duty service members are particularly prone to tinnitus, a condition often triggered by hearing loss that causes ears to misfire frequency signals to the brain, causing them to constantly “hear” phantom noises that aren’t actually there, such as ringing, humming, or buzzing.

As with the majority of hearing loss patients, veterans often delay seeking treatment. Though hearing loss and tinnitus are two of the most common injuries reported for disability compensation claims, their hidden nature and historical connection to old age discourage people from getting help. 

The difference with veterans is that they are prone to experiencing hearing loss much younger than the general population, with soldiers in their 20s and 30s often grappling with hearing issues that others won’t face until their 50s and 60s.

Moreover, a significant portion of patients refuse to use hearing aids that can greatly improve their daily experiences because they perceive them as unsightly, embarrassing, or shameful. As a result, some veterans wait decades before being fit for hearing aids.

Simulated IED detonates during US Army training scenario
A simulated improvised explosive device detonates during a realistic training scenario at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. Photo: US Army

Modern Solutions for Age-Old Problem

Today, I work with the general public at one of America’s largest hearing care retailers, helping them find the right solution for their needs and budget to ensure they go home with a solution tailored to their lifestyle.

Additionally, I serve as an audiologist for soldiers and veterans at Camp Pendleton in California. Some of my key focuses involve helping them understand the severity of their condition, the advances that have been made in hearing aid technology, and the cumulative effects of avoiding treatment over time.

After all, every patient wants better hearing, but they aren’t all excited about the idea of wearing a hearing aid everywhere they go. Part of my job is to convince them.

Fortunately, advances in hearing technology have greatly increased the level of treatment and life improvement on offer to those living with hearing loss or tinnitus. The latest hearing devices combine breakthroughs in sound processing, battery power, and user controls to improve hearing in any situation.

For those who don’t want to be seen wearing a hearing aid, smaller rechargeable models are being introduced each year that still deliver advanced features and exceptional sound quality.

These hearing aids also assist with tinnitus through amplification. By assisting the wearer with better hearing, their brain no longer needs to create as much of a phantom sound, not curing tinnitus but lowering its volume.

Education Improves Outcomes

It’s virtually impossible to track individual noise exposure in real time due to highly variable conditions, so treatment and education are the best tools to protect hearing in the first place and improve quality of life for veterans living with hearing loss.

Now that smaller hearing aids on the market look and feel as low-key and unobtrusive as earbuds, more patients are willing and even excited to take action and regain their hearing independence.

When I see patients, I reiterate that hearing loss can affect communication, relationships, and work abilities, cause depression or anxiety, and even further cognitive decline, so they understand the importance and value of early diagnosis and treatment.

As the adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and both hearing protection and hearing aids are effective preventative measures that limit damage and daily struggles.

Headshot Douglas SantiagoDouglas Santiago is a HearUSA Audiologist based in California.

He is also a US Army Veteran.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.

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