ClaireSchultzistheCEOofHearing Health Foundation (HHF), a 501(c)(3) tax- exempt organization committed to ensuring the public—especially service members, veterans and their families—have the opportunity to enjoy life without hearingloss and tinnitus.
- What is Hearing Health Foundation’s mission?
HHF’s mission is to prevent and cure hearing loss and tinnitus through groundbreaking research, and to promotehearing health. Through our Hearing Restoration Project, we are working on a biological cure for hearing loss and tinnitus for millions of Americans—including hundreds of thousands of military service members and veterans.
- What military-specific initiatives has HHF worked on?
In 2012, we joined the DoD’s Hearing Center of Excellence as a partner through general outreach, radio programs and co-authored articles. We share many of the same goals in raising awareness, providing resources and information, and continually improving the health and quality of life of service members and veterans.
In 2014, HHF launched an online campaign geared toward veterans to provide information and resources about tinnitus treatments and the Hearing Restoration Project’s efforts, and including links to expert content in our magazine and to other hearing and veteran-related organizations and associations. [Visit http://hearinghealthfoundation.org/veterans.]
Pharmaceutical intervention for hearing loss is a major research area for the military.
- Some military members feel hesitant about seeking treatment for hearing-related issues. What does HHF do to mitigate that stigma?
Service members may feel stigmatized about seeking treatment for their hearing problems because there are many myths and misconceptions about people with hearing loss. At HHF, we provide factual information as well as resources to help reduce the stigma of hearing loss, and to encourage getting treatment as soon as possible.
- Do many service members regard hearing loss as a “badge of honor”?
HHF has not heard this sentiment, but it is our hope that members of the military take every effort to prevent hearing loss while in the service, and to address any hearing issues they may have developed as soon as they are discovered. Untreated hearing loss can lead to many additional medical problems; for example, depression, isolation and dementia.
- Are more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking hearing loss treatment?
At least 60 percent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistanhave acquired hearing loss or tinnitus because of noise exposure during their service. According to the Hearing Center of Excellence, in the past decade, 840,000 service members have been diagnosed with tinnitus, and just over 700,000 have hearing loss.
- What are the most effective treatment options?
Current treatments include hearing aids, cochlear implants and other devices. Treatments available for tinnitus include sound therapy, drug therapy, psychological interventions, brain stimulation and tinnitus retraining therapy, which is being tested through clinical trials at six flagship military treatment centers.
A sequential program known as progressive tinnitus management has emerged as one of the most promising research-based methods. In order to help patients, it is necessary to mitigate the functional effects of tinnitus, such as difficulties with sleep, concentration and relaxation.
- How can service members prevent hearing loss?
Traditional earplugs are effective in preventing hazardous noise from entering the ear canal, but they can interfere with speech communication or low-level combat sounds. Level-dependent earplugs have a small filter that enables soft noises to be conveyed with full strength while eliminating high-frequency or impulse noise.
Earmuffs are another option. … They provide greater attenuation than earplugs [but] make it harder to pick up the softer sounds that may be necessary for verbal communication. An electronic communication system in the earmuff allows wearers to communicate clearly with each other.
Noise-attenuating helmets should be used by military personnel operating combat vehicles or aircraft. These helmets protect the wearer from hearing loss, crash impact and eye injuries while also increasing communication ability through a radio communication piece.
Technologically advanced helmets include an active noise-reducing technology that monitors the sound energy around the ear and cancels any unwanted noise while preserving verbal communications. A communications earplug with a microphone can be worn in addition to the helmet for high-quality verbal clarity.
—Thomas B. Spincic