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The HCE plans to launch an integrated campaign focused on empowering military personnel and veterans to better understand, care for and protect their hearing.
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Stats & Figures

Hearing Loss and Tinnitus in America

  • As of 2010, approximately 36 million Americans have hearing loss. An estimated one out of every three cases is caused by excess noise exposure (noise-induced hearing loss). 1
  • An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Of those, 16 million have sought medical attention for their tinnitus. 2
  • An estimated one in five American teens suffers from the same degree of hearing loss found in older adults age 50-60. 3
  • An estimated one in five highschoolers suffer from ringing in the ears (tinnitus). 4
  • Hearing loss, which is the third most common chronic condition in older adults after arthritis and heart disease, represents a pressing national public health issue. 5
  • More than 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous levels of noise in their workplaces and an additional nine million are exposed to ototoxic chemicals. 6

Hearing and Auditory Injury in the Military

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spent an estimated $1.39B in calculated compensation for major auditory disabilities in FY2010.
  • The auditory system accounts for the second highest affected body system in VA-disabled veterans. 7
  • Tinnitus (971,990) and hearing loss (774,384) account for the two most prevalent service-connected disabilities among veterans. 8
  • Current trends suggest that the incidence of tinnitus and hearing loss is increasing 13-18 percent annually. 9
  • At the current estimated rate of increase, the number of veterans with a service-connected tinnitus disability will increase to over 1.5 million by 2014. 10
  • At the current estimated rate of increase, VA costs for veterans with service-connected tinnitus is projected to increase to over $2.26 billion by 2014. 10
  • Combined, tinnitus and hearing loss affected nearly 16 percent of veterans who began receiving VA disability compensation in FY 2012 and nearly 20 percent of veterans who began receiving VA disability in 2011. 9 10
  • More than 350,000 service members have reported tinnitus and more than 250,000 service members have reported hearing loss following redeployment from the Gulf War conflicts.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss is among the top disabilities associated with current conflicts (OEF/OIF veterans).
  • 50-60 percent of one’s situational awareness comes from hearing. With bad hearing, it takes approximately 90 seconds to identify a target. With good hearing, it takes approximately 40 seconds. The 50 second difference could be the difference between life or death or mission success or failure. 11
  • Seven out of ten injuries in Theater are due to blasts; an estimated 50 percent of these blast wounded warriors experience permanent hearing loss. 11
  • Sustained exposure to engine noise in a convoy can be just as damaging to hearing as exposure resulting from an improvised explosive device (IED). 11

Know Your Decibels

  • The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Prolonged or close-range exposure to levels above 85 dB (e.g., lawnmower or helicopter cockpit noise) can cause gradual hearing loss. 12
  • The impact of decibels increases rapidly. For example, 20 dB is 100 times more powerful than 1 dB. And 120 dB is 1,000,000,000,000 times more powerful than 1 dB.
  • For each 10 dB increase in volume, the perceived volume of noise is doubled.
  • An MP3 player at maximum level is roughly 105 dB. That's 100 times more intense than 85 dB (which is widely regarded as the safe sound threshold). 13
  • Lawn and home tools and equipment can reach up to 104 dB.
  • Rock concerts can reach up to 130 dB.
  • The quietest DOD weapon is the M-16, which measures in at about 156 dB. One shot without hearing protection can damage one’s hearing. 14
  • Exposure to sounds 160 dB or higher (e.g., noise from fireworks or a close-range handgun) can cause immediate physical damage to one’s ears.
  • If someone is three feet away from you and you cannot hear them, the noise levels in your surroundings are probably high enough to damage your hearing. This is often the situation in noisy restaurants and night clubs as well as rock concerts, sporting events, and crowded festivals/parades.
  • To reduce NIHL, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires hearing protection for civilian workers exposed to eight hours of continuous noise at levels 85 dB or above. 6

Want to learn more about the danger of everyday noise, check out the HCE’s downloadable poster, "How Loud is Too Loud?" (PDF)

Understand Auditory Injury

  • Gradual hearing loss can affect people of all ages, varying from mild to profound. Depending on the cause, it can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent.
  • Humans have approximately 17,000 – 20,000 hair cells in their ears. Once damaged, the cells cannot grow back, leaving one with permanent hearing loss.
  • Harmful noise triggers the formation of molecules inside the ear that contribute to hair cell damage and NIHL.
  • NIHL can be caused by one-time exposure to an intense “impulse” sound, such as noise from a blast or explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as noise generated by the roar of aircrafts or ship engines.
  • Exposure to seemingly "routine" noises found in everyday circumstances, such as sporting events, night clubs or rock concerts, can gradually damage hearing over time.
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus may be experienced in one or both ears. Also, the symptoms of tinnitus may be constant, or they may come and go (i.e., re-occur in periodic episodes).
  • Severe tinnitus can accompany hearing loss and be just as debilitating as the hearing loss itself. 15
  • Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is largely preventable. Hearing protection decreases the intensity of noise and helps preserve your hearing.

Appreciate the Impact of Hearing Loss

  • There is a correlation between untreated hearing loss and diminished income/earning potential. 16
  • Hearing loss has been linked to chronic disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety. 17
  • In older adults, hearing loss increases the risk of hospitalization and poor health. 18
  • Hearing loss costs society an estimated 26,000,000. 19
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus cost the VA hundreds of millions of dollars each year in compensation payments. 8
  • Studies suggest that the ability for a unit to accomplish its mission is directly proportional to its ability to communicate effectively. 20
  • Hearing loss significantly impedes situational awareness and communication; in doing so, it interferes with a warrior’s ability to recognize threats, exchange mission-critical information and give and receive commands. 20
  • A warrior with an undiagnosed hearing impairment could endanger his/her own life as well as the safety and mission accomplishment of his/her unit as a whole. 20
  • Good hearing is prerequisite for peak performance in both combat and non-combat environments. 20
  • Untreated hearing loss can negatively affect one’s quality of life and interpersonal relationships. 21

Fun Facts

  • No two ears are the same, which is important to keep in mind when ensuring proper fit for hearing protective devices. During hearing protection testing, there was a <2mm difference in insertion depth between 85 percent of subjects’ left and right. 22
  • Only one out of five who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one. 1
  • On average, hearing aid users waited over 10 years after their initial diagnosis to be fitted with their first set of hearing aids (Davis, Smith, Ferguson, Stephens, & Gianopoulos, 2007) 23

References

  1. NIH, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Quick Statistics, http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/Pages/quick.aspx
  2. Hearing Health Foundation, Hearing Loss & Tinnitus Statistics, http://hearinghealthfoundation.org/85
  3. Shargorodsky J, MD; Curhan S, MD; Curhan G, MD, Eavey R, MD: Change in Prevalence of Hearing Loss in US Adolescents. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 304, No. 7, August 18, 2010
  4. Gilles A, Van Hal G, De Ridder D, Wouters K, Van de Heyning P: Epidemiology of Noise-Induced Tinnitus and the Attitudes and Beliefs towards Noise and Hearing Protection in Adolescents. PLoS ONE 8(7): e70297, July 24, 2013
  5. NIH, Department of Health and Human Services: Dealing with Hearing Loss. News in Health, December 2007, pp.3
  6. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Occupational Noise Exposure, https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/
  7. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration, Annual Benefits Report Fiscal Year 2011
  8. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration, Annual Benefits Report Fiscal Year 2012
  9. Hoffer ME., Balaban, C, Gottshall K, Balough, BJ, Maddox MR, Penta JR: Blast Exposure: Vestibular Consequences. Otology & Neurotology, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp. 232-236, February 2010
  10. American Tinnitus Association, ADV Master Packet, February 2013
  11. U.S. Army Health Command, Army Hearing Program: Hearing Loss Prevention for the Solider Presentation
  12. NIH, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/noise.aspx
  13. NIH, Department of Health and Human Services: Dealing with Hearing Loss. News in Health, December 2008
  14. U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine: Readiness Through Hearing Conversation, Technical Guide 250 (2004), pp.3
  15. Hearing Loss Association of America, Basic Facts About Hearing Loss, http://www.hearingloss.org/content/basic-facts-about-hearing-loss
  16. Hearing People Better: hearing Loss Affects Income, July 11, 2012
  17. News-Medical.net, Hearing Loss Linked to Several Chronic Diseases, May 25, 20112
  18. Bakalar N: Hearing Loss Takes a Toll on Health. New York Times, June 12, 2013
  19. Kochkin S, PhD: Commentary: The Dollars and Sense of Addressing Hearing Loss in the Workplace. McClatchy Newspaper, June 18, 2012
  20. Department of the Army: Army Hearing Program Special Text 4-01.501, February 2008
  21. Kochkin S, PhD; Rogin C, MA: The Impact of Hearing Instruments on the Quality of Life. The Hearing Review, January 2000
  22. U.S. Navy Flight Deck hearing Protection Use Trends: Survey Results
  23. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Untreated Hearing Loss in Adults—A Growing National Epidemic, http://www.asha.org/Aud/Articles/Untreated-Hearing-Loss-in-Adults/

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