One Man's Military Perspective

By Colonel John T. Dillard, U.S. Army (Retired)

The top two disabilities for our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing of the ears (which is actually a sound inside the brain). Both conditions became a problem for me and for many of my friends in the service. A lifetime spent in the U.S. Army, starting in the 1970s, meant frequent exposure to gunfire and proximity to screaming jets and helicopter engines.

Even during a peacetime career in the military, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are subject to a barrage of auditory insults from the weapons and equipment they operate. It all stacks up to a gradual, although sometimes very abrupt, loss of hearing, usually starting at the higher frequencies. For those in the service, any age-related decline in hearing gets accelerated, to the extreme, by repeated exposure to noise at unsafe levels.

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For me, tinnitus began faintly and increased with more hearing loss, reaching a crescendo with one big acoustic trauma—a gunshot right next to me in 2009. I immediately began searching for any kind of treatment that would alleviate the loud ringing in my head, which was actually measured in a laboratory at being around a constant 70 decibels. That is roughly equivalent to the noise inside a fairly strong shower, and I soon discovered that people would use long showers to find a bit of relief by masking their tinnitus. (However, I take short showers!)

Armed with a background in biology and technology, I began to review all the research I could find. As it turns out, the typical tinnitus condition consists of several brain components: auditory (hearing it); attentional (your awareness of it); memory (persistence); and emotional (how it affects your mood). After many hours on the web, I spent thousands of dollars on things that didn't work, undergoing treatments in all areas of pharmacology, sound therapy, acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen, and even transcranial magnetic stimulation.

None of these had any effect for me whatsoever. And despite some incredible recent advances in neuroscience to better understand all of the brain’s complexities, there is still no proven cure or even a viable treatment for tinnitus or to reverse hearing loss.

I eventually realized I would have to tackle my tinnitus with the only things out there that to me were credible for managing tinnitus. I eventually found an audiologist who would fit me with hearing aids that provided a built-in tinnitus masking sound. Without a doubt, this became the best purchase decision of my life...

Continue here to read the full version of "One Man's Military Perspective" in the Fall 2017 issue of Hearing HealthColonel John T. Dillard, U.S. Army (Retired), resides in Carmel, California, with his wife of 30 years. A senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Dillard spent his army career serving in mechanized and parachute infantry assignments and managing programs to bring new technological capabilities to warfighters. He serves on a consumer review panel of tinnitus treatments for the Department of Defense (DoD)’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs and also conducts acquisition policy research for the DoD.

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