Hearing Loss

For military personnel, the wear and tear on your ears over time from noise such as shooting firearms, explosions and aircraft engines can contribute to hearing loss by damaging your inner ear (cochlea). Tiny hairs in the cochlea may break or become bent, and nerve cells may degenerate. When the nerve cells or the hairs are damaged or missing, electrical signals aren’t transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs. A ruptured eardrum may also result in hearing loss. Your hearing may have deteriorated if you find that it’s harder to understand everything that’s said in conversation, especially when there’s background noise, if sounds seem muffled, or if you find yourself having to turn the volume higher when you listen to music, the radio or television.

To determine your ability to hear and the extent of your hearing loss, your doctor may refer you to a hearing specialist (audiologist) for hearing tests. During more thorough testing conducted by an audiologist, you wear earphones and hear sounds directed to one ear at a time. The audiologist presents a range of sounds of various tones and asks you to indicate each time you hear the sound. Each tone is repeated at faint levels to find out when you can barely hear. The audiologist will also present various words to determine your hearing ability.

Hearing loss treatment depends on the cause and severity of your hearing loss. If your hearing loss is less severe, a hearing aid can be helpful by making sounds stronger and easier for you to hear. If your hearing loss is more severe, often due to serious damage to your inner ear, a surgically implanted electronic device called a cochlear implant may be an option.


Tinnitus is the perception of sound within the human ear in the absence of corresponding external sound. Tinnitus can be perceived in one or both ears or in the head. The sound perceived may range from a quiet background noise to one that can be heard even over loud external sounds. It is usually described as a ringing noise, but in some patients it takes the form of a high pitched whining, buzzing, hissing, humming, or whistling sound, or as ticking, clicking, roaring, “crickets” or “tree frogs” or “locusts”, tunes, songs, or beeping. It has also been described as a “wooshing” sound, as of wind or waves. Tinnitus can be intermittent or it can be continuous. In the latter case, this “phantom” sound can create great distress in the sufferer. Tinnitus is not itself a disease, but a symptom resulting from a range of underlying causes including ear injury from loud noises. For military personnel, the wear and tear on your ears over time from noise such as shooting firearms, explosions and aircraft engines can contribute to tinnitus.

Because tinnitus is often defined as a subjective phenomenon, it is difficult to measure using objective tests, such as by comparison to noise of known frequency and intensity, as in an audiometric or hearing test. The condition is often rated clinically on a simple scale from “slight” to “catastrophic” according to the practical difficulties it imposes, such as interference with sleep, quiet activities, or normal daily activities. There are many treatments for tinnitus that have been claimed, with varying degrees of statistical reliability.