High Prevalence of Tinnitus Among Servicemen and Women.
Only in the past few decades have we come to understand the long-lasting impacts of warfare and combat on our servicemen and servicewomen. Aside from ostensible physical conditions sustained from combat, the medical community has devoted more research on the invisible effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. In recent years, another invisible condition related to combat has been studied and treated with more frequency: tinnitus.
Tinnitus is the leading service-related disability
In 2012, the Veterans Administration estimated that approximately 972,000 veterans returning from combat experience tinnitus. It is the leading service-related disability among US veterans. Tinnitus, commonly known as a “ringing of the ears,” is a condition in which sounds are heard without an external stimulus.
Statistics show that 90% of tinnitus cases are related to hearing loss, and a common cause for tinnitus is exposure to loud sounds, whether in a shocking, traumatic event, such as from weapons or an explosion, or when experiencing damaging volumes for longer periods of time, such as working on or near military machinery. This physical and neurological condition is a common invisible wound of war, causing a whistling, buzzing, hissing, or ringing in the veteran’s ear and becomes a source of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Research devoted to tinnitus
In an attempt to address the prevalence of tinnitus as a post-service condition, the American Tinnitus Association has encouraged the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, and Congress to invest in tinnitus research as a commitment to providing care for our servicemen and women. Currently, hearing specialists and medical professionals are able to treat tinnitus, but there is presently no cure for the condition. Hearing aids are equipped with sound therapy and masking features to reduce the high-pitched sounds of tinnitus. Earlier this year, the Oregon Health and Science University and the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service discovered new evidence supporting the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation to improve tinnitus symptoms.
In this study, Dr. Robert L. Folmer and team generated a magnetic field that traveled through the scalp and skull to interact with brain tissue. Study participants, both veterans and non-veterans alike, received TMS treatments over a period of 10 days. The stimulation of the brain from this magnetic field alleviated the tinnitus symptoms of over half of the participants, with some for at least six months. This study is still in a preliminary stage of development, but the VA and OHSU are committed to fine-tuning TMS for tinnitus treatment (it is currently used to treat depression).
Preventative steps for servicemen and women
Though there are options for treating tinnitus, the condition persists with tinnitus claims growing at an annual rate of 15%. As a result, hearing specialists recommend that the U.S. Armed Services take preventative measures to protect the hearing of their service men and women. In combat zones, people are recommended to wear customized ear protection or noise-canceling headphones. These protective tools do not hinder with the activity of service men and women, but rather protect them from dangerous volumes and frequencies in the moment, and in the long-term.